Fewer children went to prison for committing knife crimes in West Midlands last year, new figures show.
Anti-knife crime charity the Ben Kinsella Trust said a fall across England and Wales is encouraging, following a trend in decreasing child knife crime, but warned against the high percentage of repeat offenders avoiding custody.
Ministry of Justice figures show 276 knife offences were committed by children aged between 10 and 17 in the West Midlands Police area last year – down from 300 in 2020.
Of them, 271 were for possessing a knife in a public place and six were for threatening behaviour.
An offence can be classified as both possession and threatening, but it is only recorded once in the total number of offences.
The offences led to 22 (7.3%) under-18s being placed in immediate custody.
This was down on 31 the year before and 51 in 2019, before the pandemic.
Across England and Wales, 179 children aged between 10 and 17 years old were sent to immediate custody last year, meaning 5.8% of offences committed led to a young person being removed from the streets.
This was down on the 288 (8%) remanded in custody in 2020 and dramatically below pre-pandemic levels – 533 (11.5%) were sent to prison in 2019.
The fall in the percentage of young offenders going to prison is alongside a national fall in the total number of total offences.
In 2021, 3,519 knife offences were committed by under-18s, down from 3,602 the year prior and well below pre-pandemic levels – in 2019, there were 4,618 offences.
Patrick Green, chief executive of the Ben Kinsella Trust, said that it is good to see knife offences falling, but expressed caution, given the decrease in all crime during the pandemic due to successive lockdowns.
Mr Green also raised the problem of repeat offenders, highlighting the low proportion sent to prison.
In West Midlands, 44 (15.9%) of the 276 knife offences in West Midlands were committed by children who have had at least one previous offence – 34 avoided immediate custody.
The other 232 were committed by first-time offenders.
Across England and Wales, just 103 of 549 (18.8%) offences committed by children who had a previous conviction led to a child in custody.
"Many victims will be horrified to see that habitual knife carriers are more likely to be returned to the streets than to end up in prison," Mr Green added.
"We cannot expect to make any meaningful headway in tackling knife crime until the justice system takes stronger action to put serial offenders behind bars."
A Government spokesperson said: "Those caught carrying a knife are more likely to be sent to jail, and for longer, than they were a decade ago.
"The 20,000 extra police officers we are recruiting will help to bring more criminals before the courts and our Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act will ensure the most serious and violent offenders spend longer behind bars."