Essex: MP hits out as number of youths detained by police falls by two-thirds
- Credit: PA
An MP has warned that a 66% drop in the number of youths detained in police custody risks “haemorrhaging” the public’s confidence in the justice system.
Clacton MP Douglas Carswell’s comments comes after figures, released following a Freedom of Information request, revealed a fall from 3,558 under-16s held in Essex Police custody in 2008/9 compared to 1,208 in 2012/13.
He said: “Justice is not about patting people on the head and saying ‘you’ve been a naughty boy’.
“Justice must be administered intelligently and there must be priorities but if you don’t punish people accordingly you will haemorrhage confidence in the justice system.”
The statistics showed that a child as young as six had been held in police custody in 2011/12 due to immigration matters.
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Four eight-year-olds have also been held while the age 15 bracket accounted for the majority of the incidents.
A total of 11,706 under 16s have been held in custody by Essex Police officers over the past five years. Crimes have included theft, criminal damage, robbery, GBH with intent, harassment, sexual assault and rape.
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Sergeant Jan Bloomfield, youth and anti-social behaviour co-ordinator, said the reduction of young people in cells was down to several reasons.
She said the community resolution process and leadership within Essex police to find other ways to address early offending have contributed to the fall.
“Not only do we have community resolution, we will also make good and positive use of our schools policy which allows us to deal with crime that has taken place in schools, during school hours by school children without using enforcement,” she added.
“Research shows that restorative justice leads to a reduction in offending and re-offending.
“It gives the victim a greater say in how their crime should be investigated, and ensures the young person takes responsibility for their actions.
“It gives that child an opportunity to learn and put right the wrong.”
Essex Police and Crime Commissioner Nick Alston said: “Police should act in a way that makes it less likely a young person will reoffend.
“There is now a policy that anyone - be it an adult or a youth – who comes into a police station voluntarily should not be placed in a cell.
“And why should they? They have come in voluntarily and there is no need to lock them up, especially as they won’t have been proven guilty.
“I also welcome the move to deal with young offenders in schools rather than police stations as this is less likely to criminalise young offenders and less likely to lead to them reoffending.”
The drastic fall has been welcomed by Frances Crook, chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, who hopes the downwards trend continues.
She 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.”