Child arrests plummet by 68% across England and Wales since 2010

Police working to ‘ensure that vulnerable children being exploited are treated as victims, not criminals’

Lizzie Dearden
Home Affairs Correspondent
Monday 10 September 2018 00:01
There were 616 arrests of 10- and 11-year-olds in 2017
There were 616 arrests of 10- and 11-year-olds in 2017

Arrests of children have plummeted by more than two-thirds across England and Wales since 2010 as police work to put fewer young people behind bars, research has found.

Last year police made just over 79,000 arrests of minors – one every seven minutes on average – down from almost 246,000 seven years before.

The 68 per cent reduction came after police forces changed their response to crimes committed by vulnerable young people, following years of campaigning by charities to reduce the criminalisation of children.

The Howard League for Penal Reform, which compiled the statistics, said the number of child arrests had fallen every year since the start of its work with forces to keep as many boys and girls as possible out of the criminal justice system.

Frances Crook, chief executive of the charity, said: “It is a phenomenal achievement by the police and the Howard League, and it means that tens of thousands of children will have a brighter future without their life chances being blighted by unnecessary police contact and criminal records.

“Police forces across England and Wales have adopted a positive approach that will make our communities safer, and the Howard League is proud to have played its part in that transformation. We have come a long way, but there is still more work to do.”

Child arrests have fallen in every police force across England and Wales, including a 62 per cent reduction in the Metropolitan Police, and arrests of girls have reduced faster than boys.

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The age of criminal responsibility in England and Wales is 10 years old, meaning that primary school age children are among those being detained.

There were 616 arrests of 10- and 11-year-olds in 2017, down 12 per cent from the previous year.

The number of children in prison was also reduced by more than 60 per cent between 2010 and 2017, as fewer boys and girls were drawn into the penal system.

The Howard League said keeping children out of the criminal justice system also helps prevent crime, with research showing that the more times they are prosecuted, the more “entrenched” their offending becomes.

But the charity warned that children in residential care were still being unfairly criminalised, that disproportionate numbers of children from ethnic minority backgrounds were being arrested and that authorities need to improve their understanding of criminal exploitation.

A key area of concern is county lines drug trafficking, which sees gangs use children and vulnerable people as drug mules to run their product into smaller towns and more rural areas where their territory is violently controlled.

The phenomenon, which has seen children as young as 12 dealing class A drugs, is also linked to sexual abuse, grooming and girls being pimped out by their partners.

Police have started referring affected youngsters for help under a national scheme for modern slaves, where British citizens became the largest group of potential victims for the first time last year.

Police leaders say that even outside the “county lines” drug trade, there has been a concerted shift to make arrest a last resort by working more closely with other agencies and intensifying prevention efforts.

Chief Constable Olivia Pinkney, the National Police Chiefs’ Council leader for children, welcomed the continued drop in child arrests.

“While there will always be situations in which arrest is the best option to keep the public safe, police forces are continuing to work to decrease this wherever possible,” she added.

“We are increasingly working with other agencies to ensure that vulnerable children being exploited receive the right support and are treated as victims, not criminals.”

The trend could be reversed by a growing number of arrests for violent offences across the country, with the government introducing mandatory prison terms for anyone caught carrying a knife or acid twice.

Police have also been increasing stop and search operations to combat weapons-carrying, and the Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick said this week that “young black boys” were statistically more likely to be both the victims and perpetrators of stabbings in London.

The London Assembly said that police in the capital were being forced to lock up arrested children in police cells by a lack of suitable accommodation.

The police and crime committee found that 1,295 under-18s were charged and detained in police custody by the Metropolitan Police in 2017 and called for the number of children kept in custody to be reduced.

There are six secure accommodation units for young people across the country, but none within the M25.

“The current situation of children in police cells overnight is unacceptable and shames our justice system,” said Caroline Pidgeon MBE.

“We are disappointed by the apparent lack of action to improve the provision of alternative accommodation for children in custody.”

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