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Police arresting 170 children a week across Westcountry

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: December 03, 2012

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Almost 9,000 children were arrested by West police last year – more than 170 every week, the world's oldest penal reform organisation has found.

But figures from the two forces in the region also show a steady decline over the past four years, according to the Howard League for Penal Reform.

Avon and Somerset Police made 5,608 arrests of boys and girls aged 17 and under during 2011 and in Devon and Cornwall the figure was 3,363.

The overall drop from 14,664 in 2008 to 8,971 in 2011 was around 39%, a trend the League says it hopes will continue, allowing officers to focus vital resources to deal with "real crimes".

Frances Crook, chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, which was founded in 1866, said: "Children who get into trouble are more often than not just being challenging teenagers and how we respond to this nuisance behaviour could make a difference for the rest of their lives.

"An arrest can blight a life and lead to a criminal record for just being naughty.

"Only a handful of children are involved in more serious incidents and they usually suffer from neglect, abuse or mental health issues."

More than one million child arrests have been made in England and Wales since 2008, but the figures show a downward trend. The number of arrests nationwide fell by a third between 2008 and 2011.

Across England and Wales, police made more than 209,000 arrests of boys and girls aged 17 and under last year.

Girls account for about a fifth of arrests each year, 207,808 between 2008 and 2011.

However, 24,055 fewer girls were arrested in 2011 than in 2008 – a fall of 38 per cent.

The Howard League claimed the reduction was "testament to a change of culture" with officers more focused on public safety than targets.

Avon and Somerset Police said the introduction of restorative justice had helped reduce arrests.

Inspector Paul Cox, who has responsibility for youth issues, said: "Once a young person enters the criminal justice system they are stigmatised and more likely to re-offend. Restorative justice gave us another tool to work with young offenders, giving the opportunity to give them a warning and a second-chance on their first offence but whilst also making them face the consequences of what they had done."

Devon and Cornwall Police said its officers did not make the decision to detain youngsters "lightly".

A spokesman said: "There are instances where it is necessary to arrest a younger person to prevent or investigate crime or to stop an individual putting themselves or other members of the public at risk of harm.

"All police forces use out-of-court disposals to deal with offences where appropriate and these figures do show a declining trend in the number of young people girls being arrested and brought into the criminal justice system.

"But in certain circumstances taking them into custody may can be the only option available."

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  • mrcrashhappy  |  December 04 2012, 5:15AM

    Welcome to Prison Planet. The more behavior that is defined as criminal, the less freedom we have. These numbers are insane and the cryptic rationalisations of the police indicate a system gone out of control. Reform would do more to mitigate the statistics than more government meddling.

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  • twain1  |  December 03 2012, 10:26PM

    At last an optimistic stat; bottom of the league for literacy and numeracy ad nauseum but top of the league for numbers arrested! Where's it all gone wrong? Kids running feral abusing the vulnerable whilst another kid is arrested for calling someone 'gay' or similar. The politicians are to blame, stupid beyond belief.

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  • josdave  |  December 03 2012, 8:23PM

    It should be a wake up call to the parents but I won't hold my breath. As for an improvement in youth behaviour it is getting worse. Try telling off a youth for bad language and at best you'll get a mouthful of abuse at worst you will be assaulted.

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  • stevepz  |  December 03 2012, 3:23PM

    These are arrest figures. Could this mean that they are not getting caught, Or perhaps on the spot warnings are given due to the shrinking size of the police force. Perhaps people are not reporting crimes due to intimidation or feel nothing will get done if they do. Its a very complicated issue. I can't say I have noticed a marked improvement in youth behavior since 2008.

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  • JJLee  |  December 03 2012, 2:58PM

    If arresting them acts as a wakeup call then all well and good, but this should not come at giving us a worse service than we already have

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