Statistics reveal that police opting for “softer” justice, for the young, means children are four times less likely to be arrested than a decade ago.
Police figures, obtained through freedom of information laws, show a 74 per cent reduction in the number of children arrested from 245,763 in 2010 to 63,272 last year.
Six police forces have also launched “diversionary” schemes for drug possession, where teenagers caught with small amounts of cannabis – and even cocaine – can avoid prosecution if they agree to attend health and education programmes. This has led to a downward trend in the number of youth arrests, with 79,681 detained in 2017 and 72,475 in 2019.
These figures follow a recent disclosure that a record one in six adult offenders are now not being taken to court, with most being given community resolutions where they apologise to their victims and in some cases offer compensation.
The Howard League for Penal Reform, which compiled the figures, said police are now more likely to caution children or opt for a community punishment rather than seek to bring them before the courts for crimes and were targeting arrest and charging at more serious crimes, rather than landing children with a criminal record for minor offences.
The Howard League has led the campaign to reduce the number of children arrested and says it has helped to ensure that hundreds of thousands of boys and girls have not had their lives and futures blighted by a criminal record. Its chief executive Frances Crook said: “Every child deserves the chance to grow and fulfil their potential, and we must do all we can to ensure that they are not held back by a criminal record. Police forces have made giant strides, diverting resources to tackling serious crime instead of arresting children unnecessarily and this approach will help to make our communities safer. As we begin to emerge from the pandemic, and as police forces recruit thousands more officers, the challenge now is to build on this success.”
Nine police forces recorded reductions of a minimum of 20 per cent in 2020: Cheshire (24 per cent); Cumbria (33 per cent); Leicestershire (24 per cent); Merseyside (22 per cent); Norfolk (34 per cent); Nottinghamshire (31 per cent); South Wales (27 per cent); Suffolk (24 per cent); and British Transport Police (22 per cent). The Metropolitan Police, the largest force, made 13,599 child arrests in 2020 which was a four per cent reduction on the previous year, and a 70 per cent reduction on the 46,079 arrests recorded in 2010.