Young drug gang suspects to be given 'custody comfort boxes'
Young people arrested on suspicion of involvement in county lines drug gangs are to be given access to 'custody comfort boxes' after being checked in at police stations.
The new initiative, being trialled in Suffolk and across the region, is designed to positively engage children who may have been exploited by drug crime.
Last year, a report by the office of the Mayor of London revealed that 113 young people from the capital were caught up in the trade across Suffolk, including 45 in Ipswich.
Authorities have said children make up about a quarter of those caught up in county lines – the controllers of which are known to use children and young people to maximise profits and distance themselves from risk.
According to the National Crime Agency, children aged 15 to 17 are among those most commonly identified as victims of county lines exploitation.
The Eastern Region Special Operations Unit (ERSOU), together with the National County Lines Coordination Centre and the Youth Justice Board County Lines Pathfinder, have introduced ‘custody comfort boxes’ containing art activities, items specifically linked to supporting children with special education needs and other items aimed at reducing stress levels or improving mental wellbeing.
ERSOU said that early positive engagement could lead to contextual safeguarding outcomes and opportunities to pursue the criminals at the top of the chain.
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The boxes have been distributed to custody suites across Suffolk, Norfolk, Essex and Cambridgeshire, after an initial pilot in London, where plans are also in place to utilise the boxes for victims and witnesses attending police stations.
Holly Finlayson, County Lines Pathfinder programme manager, said: “It is often the case that a child who has been arrested may well go on to become a victim within the same investigation.
"Unfortunately, the experience that they currently have in custody leads to a negative reaction and often an unsupported prosecution against those who have exploited them.
“To stop the cycle of reoffending, and to target the people running these organisations, it’s important that we provide support and guidance for those being targeted, and this project is part of a number of initiatives we are running across the region to help with this."