THE number of suspended prison sentences handed to criminals in Lancashire has risen by more than a third in a decade.

Research by the Centre for Crime Prevention found that those convicted of crimes including sexual and violent offences were not being sent immediately to jail.

Most recent figures show that the number given such a punishment has jumped from 57 in 2002 to 1,693 in 2012, a rise of 36 per cent.

The jump represents the second-highest proportional rise in the country after Hertfordshire.

A suspended sentence is when a defendant is given a prison term by a judge but not sent straight to jail. If they commit another offence within a specific time, they may have to serve the original sentence plus any punishment the most recent crime would attract. Examples include Islamic teacher Suleman Maknojioa, of Audley Range, who was found guilty of inappropriately touching a pupil during lessons.

He was sentenced to 40 weeks imprisonment suspended for two years in March. He must also comply with a supervision requirement for two years and a sexual offences prevention order for 10 years. Adam Neal, of South Street, Accrington, was given 16 months in custody, suspended for 12 months, in December for punching Paul Mottershead outside the Abbey pub in Accrington, before going inside, then back out again where he headbutted him.

Peter Cuthbertson, the author of the Centre for Crime Prevention report, said he believed suspended sentences were ‘over-used’.

He said: “11,670 serious offenders had their prison sentence suspended in 2012/13. despite more than 10 previous convictions or cautions. They are also failing to stop reoffending.

“Victoria, Australia, is currently abolishing failing suspended sentences. In light of similar failings here, England and Wales should do the same.”

He said more prison spaces should be built to solve the problem of already over-crowded jails.

Jack Straw, Blackburn MP and former Home Secretary, urged more research to see if suspended sentences were given as an alternative to community orders or immediate custody. He said: “Suspended sentences send out a very strong message because they can very quickly be activated. There is a case to look at the operation of suspended sentences.”