Nearly three-quarters of knife crime offenders in Hampshire had no previous knife-related convictions or cautions, new figures show.
Anti-knife crime charity the Ben Kinsella Trust said urgent change is needed to address this trend, as it suggests “for some, carrying knives has become normalised behaviour”.
Ministry of Justice figures show 292 first-time knife criminals in Hampshire went through the criminal justice system in the year ending March 2023.
They account for 71% of all those found guilty of knife and offensive weapon offences.
Of these, only 16% were jailed immediately. Patrick Green, Ben Kinsella Trust chief executive, said this showed the law is not providing a sufficient deterrent and many first-time knife criminals would go on to become serial offenders.
Across England and Wales, the proportion of offenders sent into immediate custody for a knife offence fell from 37% in the year ending March 2020 to 30% this year.
In Hampshire, offenders were cautioned or sentenced 409 times for knife-related crimes. Of those, 100 (24%) resulted in immediate jail sentences – fewer than in 2019-20, when the figure stood at 27%.
Hampshire Constabulary caught children aged under 18 with knives 70 times in 2022-23, a decrease from 91 the year before.
Mr Green said: “One possibility is that young people are feeling increasingly unsafe, and that they are mistakenly carrying knives for protection.
“Protecting our youth and fostering a safe environment for all should be a government priority.”
He added children are also influenced by social media, which “often portrays knives in a glamorised way” and said young people must be provided with the necessary support, education, and opportunities to steer them away from violence.
Of those cautioned or sentenced, 91% were men, similar to 92% the year before.
Overall, there were 19,086 knife offences that resulted in a caution or sentence in England and Wales to March this year, which was a slight decrease on last year’s figure of 19,674.