Four out of five people caught carrying a knife are avoiding prison, figures have shown.
Despite efforts to impose tougher sentences for possessing knives, the proportion of offenders being jailed between July and September this year was less than both last year and the year before, the Ministry of Justice said.
Just 18% of the 5,623 people who were sentenced for possession were jailed, down from 22% in the third quarter last year and 23% in the same period of 2008.
The fall comes despite tougher sentences being introduced more than two years ago.
Magistrates were told they should normally sentence those convicted of knife possession at the top end of the range, with the starting point for adults guilty of the lowest level of knife possession being 12 weeks in jail.
Reductions could still be made for an early guilty plea or personal mitigation, taking the sentence below the custody threshold.
The figures also showed that those who were jailed were being sent behind bars for longer.
Of the 1,036 jailed, 34% were sentenced to longer than six months, up from 31% last year and 22% in 2008. And the average jail sentence was 206 days, up from 189 in 2009 and 169 in 2008.
A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: “We need to send a strong message to those who carry knives.
“The Government’s position is clear that people who commit knife crimes should expect tough sentences, including prison when necessary.”