More than a dozen adult criminals caught carrying knives for at least a second time in Bedfordshire were spared an immediate prison sentence last year, figures reveal.
Anti-knife campaigners say they are concerned 'leniency' toward repeat offenders from the country's criminal justice system is undermining their efforts.
Ministry of Justice (MoJ) data shows there were 40 cases where an offender was convicted or cautioned again over possession of a knife or offensive weapon in Bedfordshire in the year ending in March.
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Of those cases, 21 saw the culprit given an immediate jail sentence, while 11 resulted in a suspended sentence, four in a community order and one in a caution.
It meant in 16 cases the repeat offender was not sent straight to prison, despite the law outlining that adults already convicted of the crime should face a minimum six-month jail term under the "two strikes and out" system brought in six years ago.
However, the outcome was not specified in three more cases which had not reached sentencing or had been dealt with by another means, such as a fine or a discharge.
Across England and Wales, 1,362 (34 per cent) of 4,036 knife possession cases involving an offender previously convicted or cautioned did not result in an immediate jail sentence in 2020-21.
However, the outcomes for 314 were not specified.
The MoJ said the rate of immediate prison sentences had been impacted by the pandemic, with a higher number of cases not reaching sentencing on time compared to previous years.
It also said there had been an increase in suspended sentences, possibly down to cases of coronavirus in the prison system.
But the Ben Kinsella Trust – a charity campaigning against knife crime in the name of the teenager stabbed to death in 2008 – said the criminal justice system must regard carrying weapons with the "severity that it deserves".
Chief executive Patrick Green said: "We are committed to preventative and targeted approaches to put an end to knife crime, but for those who consistently reoffend we rely on the criminal justice system to play a major role in our ongoing struggle.
"The figures raise concern about the criminal justice system's effectiveness at reducing weapon carriers on our streets.
"The leniency of the sentencing suggests an inappropriately weak response."
Although the MoJ warns any repeat knife offender should expect an immediate prison sentence, there is currently no minimum sentence for someone caught carrying a knife or offensive weapon for the first time.
In total, 150 cases of knife possession – including offenders aged under 18 – led to convictions and cautions in Bedfordshire in 2020-21, down from 176 the year before.
It reflected the national picture, with that figure also dropping across England and Wales to 16,292 convictions and cautions, from 18,721 in 2019-20.
The MoJ said sentencing remained the responsibility of independent judges.
A MoJ spokesperson added: "Those caught carrying a knife are more likely to be sent to jail and for longer than they were a decade ago.
“We are also recruiting 20,000 extra police officers, making it easier to use stop and search and ensuring the most serious offenders spend more time behind bars to protect the public."
The Judiciary Office said any sentence given by a judge or magistrates was considered "carefully" using law and sentencing guidelines.
A spokesperson added: "They also take into account any aggravating or mitigating factors which could increase or reduce the sentence."