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The number of criminals prosecuted and sent to jail has fallen to ten-year low, Ministry of Justice reveals 

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Knife crime Credit: PA

The number of people being prosecuted or sent to jail has fallen to its lowest for 25 years, Ministry of Justice (MoJ) figures reveal, following Boris Johnson’s pledge to get tough on crime and punishment.

Just under 1.6 million people were formally dealt with by the criminal justice system in England and Wales in the year up to March, the lowest on record and down two per cent on the previous year.

The number prosecuted has fallen to 1.38 million in the year to March, down from 1.63 million in 2009, despite record levels of knife crime and a rising overall crime rate.

The number jailed is at a 25-year low, having fallen by almost nine per cent in a year from 84,100 to 76,800 and down from a high of 100,200 in 2009. It means just 6.5 per cent of sentences result in jail, down from 7.4 per cent in 2009 and the lowest proportion in a decade.

Richard Atkins, Chair of the Bar Council, said: “Criminals up and down the country will be rubbing their hands with glee knowing that even if their crimes are detected and they are caught by the police, the chances of them being prosecuted or jailed are slim.”

John Apter, chair of the Police Federation, said: “The public must have faith in the criminal justice system. For that to happen there must be significant wholesale investment at every level to ensure those who commit crime are brought to account and made to face the consequences of their actions.”  

Mr Johnson has pledged to reverse the trend with a crime blitz that includes 20,000 extra police officers to combat the rise in violent crime and improve detection and prosecution rates.

He has also signalled a move to tougher sentences for serious violent and sexual offenders as part of a review that could see them serving longer jail terms.

The figures show those prosecuted for indictable offences - serious crimes dealt with by a crown court - also dropped by eight per cent from 261,500 to 241,000 in just a year. This mirrors the fall in the number of offences resulting in charges by police.

The numbers jailed for serious offences have also fallen by 8.4 per cent, from 69,300 to 63,500, the lowest for a decade and down from 80,000 in 2009.

The biggest fall in jail sentences were for theft - down from 22,600 to 19,800 - and sex offences including rape which saw the number receiving immediate custodial sentences drop from 3,891 to 3073 following controversies over the use of digital evidence.

Victims of theft also saw the number of prosecutions fall from 83,900 to 73,500, a decline of 12 per cent, while sex offence prosecutions dropped from 10,411 to 7,412, a decline of 29 per cent in a single year.

The MoJ maintained, however, that a bigger proportion of serious offenders were being jailed, up from 25 per cent in 2009 to 32.2 per cent in the current year.

It said prisoners were also serving longer terms with the averages sentence length up from 13.5 months to 17.2 months in the past decade while the conviction rate for offenders brought before courts was the highest in a decade at 87 per cent.

Community resolutions were however also up, by 3.4 per cent in a year to 105,647, as were fines which rose by 2.1 per cent to 993,000, accounting for 77 per cent of all sentences.

An MoJ spokesman said: "We are doing more to restore public confidence in the justice system, investing in police and prison places and reviewing sentencing to make sure violent and sexual offenders are properly punished."

David Green, director of think tank Civitas, said: “These figures confirm that until recently the Government was failing in its fundamental duty to protect the public. They partly reflect austerity – with 20,000 fewer officers the police have not had the capacity to combat crime.

"But the figures also reflect the capture of the Conservative party by theories that attribute criminal behaviour to structural forces rather than personal responsibility. Crime was seen as the result of poverty or inequality."

"From his announcements so far, the arrival of Boris Johnson seems to signal a return to conventional liberal theory that individuals have a conscience and if they choose to break the law punishment follows."