More than a quarter of repeat knife offenders in Avon and Somerset were spared an immediate jail sentence last year.

New figures show across England and Wales nearly four in 10 people who were caught with a knife or offensive weapon for at least the second time were not sent to jail.

The Ben Kinsella Trust, which campaigns against knife crime, said victims are left “feeling like they haven't received the justice they deserve”.

Ministry of Justice figures show 121 repeat knife offenders aged over 18 in Avon and Somerset went through the criminal justice system in the year ending September 2023. All of them were found in possession of a knife.

Of those, 29% avoided immediate custody and were only cautioned or given a community or a suspended sentence instead. Police force level figures could include both previous possession and threatening offences.

Nationally, 4,127 adults were found guilty of a repeat possession offence. Of them, 62% were sent to jail immediately – a significant fall from 71% in 2018, three years after a new policy on repeat offenders was launched.

In 2015, the ‘two-strike’ rule was introduced, which promised adults convicted of carrying knives would face an automatic six-month prison sentence after their second conviction.

In the year to September 2018, 29% walked free from jail but this went up to 38% last year.

In Avon and Somerset, 33 of 118 repeat criminals were spared jail six years ago – a broadly in line with 2023.

Patrick Green, chief executive of the Ben Kinsella Trust, said: “The Government’s ‘two-strike’ policy was presented as an important intervention in the fight against knife crime, promising to deter potential offenders and deliver justice for victims.

“Yet, the data paints a disturbing picture where four out of 10 repeat offenders are walking free. The Ben Kinsella Trust emphasises that this inconsistency between policy and practice undermines the very purpose of the two-strike rule.

“It fails to deliver a strong deterrent effect and leaves victims feeling like they haven't received the justice they deserve.”

The policy also applied to young offenders, with those aged 16 and 17 said to face a minimum four-month detention and training order.

Across England and Wales, there were 273 young offenders, 101 of whom were sentenced to an immediate custody.

A government spokesperson said: “While sentencing is for independent courts, our latest figures show more knife-carrying criminals are being sent to jail and for longer than a decade ago.”