The number of criminals caught with knives or dangerous weapons has hit its highest level since 2010, official figures have revealed.
More than 22,000 offences of possessing or making threats with blades or offensive weapons resulted in a conviction or caution in England and Wales in 2018-19.
One in five of the culprits was aged between 10 and 17, figures from the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) show.
The statistics also showed that almost two-thirds of cases did not result in an immediate prison term.
The figures, released quarterly and based on estimates, are broadly in line with the data published three months ago.
The statistics showed that, in 2018-19, the criminal justice system dealt with 22,041 knife and offensive weapon incidents – an increase of 34% on the same 12-month period to March 2015.
The latest figures show the highest number of offences dealt with since the year ending March 2010, when there were 23,667 cases.
The figures come as West Midlands Police launched a murder investigation into a fatal stabbing in Coventry.
Officers were called just after 2.30pm on Wednesday to reports of a fight involving several young men in which a man in his 20s was fatally injured.
The statistics showed that, in 2018-19, the criminal justice system dealt with 13,986 offences of possession of an article with a blade or point.
This represents the highest figure since 2009, when there were 14,238 such cases.
It means the number of offences for possessing a knife or similar weapon rose for the sixth consecutive year.
In addition, there were 7,175 cases where an individual was found with an offensive weapon other than a knife or a blade, and 880 where a blade or weapon was used to make threats against others.
The combined total of 22,041 is the highest since 2010, when it stood at 23,667.
In 4,451 instances – 20.2% of the total – the offender was aged 10 to 17. The was down from 4,506 the previous year.
The percentage of incidents resulting in an immediate custodial sentence was 37.3% – the same as the previous 12 months.
Suspended sentences rose from 18.9% to 19% during the same period, while the percentage of those receiving a caution dropped from 11.5% in 2017-18 to 11.1% in 2018-19.
The MoJ said the average custodial sentence given to offenders under Section 28 of the Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015 was 7.9 months in the year ending March 2019.
This has risen from the first full year after the legislation was introduced in the year ending March 2017, when it was 7.1 months.
Over the same time period, the average custodial sentence length has
increased from 7.2 to 7.9 months for adults and 5.9 to 7.7 months for 16- and 17-year-olds.
Justice Minister Robert Buckland said: “This Government is committed to doing everything in its power to stop knife crime and its devastating consequences on lives and communities.
“These figures show that if you are caught carrying a knife you are more likely to be sent to prison – and for longer – than at any time in the last decade.
“But we are doing more – the Government’s Offensive Weapons Act will make it harder for young people to buy knives and help the police target those most at risk of being drawn into serious violence.”
Charlotte Pickles, director of the Reform think tank, said: “The tragic rise in knife crime requires urgent action. But, as these figures show, tougher sentences are not the answer.
“Politicians focusing on law enforcement are mistaken – you cannot arrest your way out of this.
“Instead of pledging thousands more police offices, if candidates vying to become prime minster really want to stem this violence they must also focus on the root causes – poverty, school exclusion, poor mental health and drugs.”
Barnardo’s chief executive Javed Khan said: “Knife crime is a symptom of a much bigger problem. When young people feel there is little or no possibility of a positive future, what we call a ‘poverty of hope’, they are vulnerable to exploitation and criminality.
“To break the cycle of violence we must resist sticking-plaster solutions.
“Instead, the Government urgently needs to work with charities, education, health, youth workers, the criminal justice system and local communities to find long-term answers and restore children’s hope, so they have a reason to turn away from crime.”
Diana Fawcett, chief officer of Victim Support, said: “It’s distressing to see knife crime offences continue to rise and the impact of this is something we are dealing with every day in our work.
“It’s so important to remember that behind these statistics are victims, bereaved families and friends, witnesses and communities who have all been left devastated.”