Scandal of Lancashire's career criminals who walk free from court
There were 64 repeat offenders in Lancashire who escaped immediate prison time last year despite each having more than 75 previous offences.
The Magistrates Association called on the Government to give courts greater flexibility with repeat offenders, including allowing greater control over rehabilitation orders.
Ministry of Justice figures show the number of people with previous convictions successfully prosecuted by Lancashire Constabulary.
In the 12 months to September 2018, 129 criminals with more than 75 previous offences each were convicted, but 64 of those received no immediate prison sentence. This includes thieves and drug offenders.
The most common punishment, after immediate custody, was a community sentence. A further 13 people were given a conditional discharge, meaning no punishment is given unless a further offence is committed.
The Magistrates Association said: “Previous offending history is only one factor taken into consideration.”
National chairman John Bache explained: “Magistrates always consider each case on its own merits and follow strict sentencing guidelines.
“Repeat but very low-level offending would not necessarily reach the custody threshold.
“Custody should only ever be used for the most serious offences, where there are no appropriate alternatives which could fulfil sentencing aims.”
The most common crime type committed by reoffenders who avoided prison in Lancashire was theft, with 56 cases. There was also one criminal who was convicted of public order offences and was not placed in immediate custody.
Across England and Wales, around 1,500 career criminals with more than 75 previous offences dodged prison.
The Howard League for Penal Reform praised these sentences, saying custodial time does not prevent reoffending.
Chief executive Frances Crook commented: "What is the point in sending a homeless person to prison because they keep stealing sandwiches?
"The Government’s own research has shown that prison sentences for people who commit prolific nuisance offences have no impact, as they are often people who have nowhere to live or are shoplifting to feed a drug habit.
"We need to invest in turning lives round, rather than knee-jerk punishments that just make things worse.”
The number of criminals with more than 75 sentences who did not face immediate custody in Lancashire has decreased over the last five years. There were 130 cases in 2013.
A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: "Sentencing is a matter for independent judges, but under this Government the most serious offenders are more likely to go to prison, and for longer.
“However, while prison will always be the only place for serious and violent offenders, there is persuasive evidence showing community sentences are often more effective in reducing reoffending than short spells behind bars.”