Dramatic fall in number of children arrested in Suffolk

File picture of handcuffs being applied

The number of children arrested by Suffolk Police has fallen by 70% over the last decade - Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown

The number of children arrested by Suffolk police has fallen by 70% over the last decade after the launch of a major national campaign aimed at keeping youngsters out of the criminal justice system.

But numbers have been creeping up over the last four years according to figures from the Howard League for Penal Reform.

For the last decade, the Howard League has been working with police forces across England and Wales to reduce arrests of children, helping to ensure that hundreds of thousands of boys and girls do not have their lives blighted by a criminal record.

Suffolk police made 1,120 arrests of children in 2019. This compares to the 3,716 arrests recorded by the force back in 2010, when the Howard League campaign began. However there have been steady rises every year since 2016 when 858 children were arrested.

The charity’s latest research briefing, Child arrests in England and Wales 2019, shows that there has been a 71 per cent reduction nationwide in the number of arrests of children aged 17 and under – from 245,763 in 2010 to 71,885 in 2019. Every police force in England and Wales has achieved a reduction in arrests over this period, with all but three reducing their arrest rate by more than half.

Frances Crook, Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, 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.

“The Howard League’s programme to reduce child arrests has shown what can be achieved by working together. Police forces have diverted resources to tackling serious crime instead of arresting children unnecessarily, and this means hundreds of thousands of boys and girls can look forward to a brighter future.

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“After a successful decade spent embedding good practice across England and Wales, the challenge now is to keep up the momentum and reduce arrests still further. The Howard League will continue to support forces to make communities safer and allow more children to thrive.”

Although 22 police forces, including Suffolk, recorded increases in child arrests between 2018 and 2019, their numbers were much lower than when the Howard League’s campaign began in 2010. The charity has encouraged forces to analyse their data and investigate how arrests could be reduced in future.

A significant number of forces reported that the rise was believed to be, at least in part, related to operations to tackle county lines. Instead of being treated as victims, some children are being arrested because they are suspected of having committed crimes as a result of their exploitation by others. Addressing this problem will be a key challenge for forces over the next few years.

A Suffolk police spokeswoman said: “It is encouraging that the figures show there has been a year on year decrease in the number of arrests of children aged 17 and under since 2010. Our staff play a key role in working alongside our partners to ensure working practices are developed which best address behaviours of young people and steer them away from committing crime.

"Where it is identified that crimes have been committed by young people, officers, including our specialist Schools Liaison Officers and Safer Neighbourhood Teams, will work in partnership to ensure the most appropriate outcomes for both the victim and offender and to prevent further crimes being committed.

"These can include community resolutions, or diversionary activities which will seek to change behaviours, provide positive outcomes and reduce the number of young people becoming unnecessarily criminalised through the criminal justice system.

"Educational initiatives are vital in reducing offending and the Police Youth Gang Prevention Team works with schools to raise awareness of how crime does not pay and we regularly engage with young people at events.

"We will continue to take a robust stance against crime and anti-social behaviour, and will always take the most appropriate and proportionate action.”