Number of children arrested in Suffolk and Essex falls dramatically over last six years

Police are appealing for witnesses following an incident involving a stolen van in Clacton today. Pi

Police are appealing for witnesses following an incident involving a stolen van in Clacton today. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN/STOCK IMAGE - Credit: Archant

The number of children arrested by police officers in Suffolk and Essex has fallen dramatically in the last six years, according to figures published today.

Research by national charity the Howard League for Penal Reform found the arrests of children aged 17 or under by Suffolk police has dropped 77% since 2010, with a 67% fall in Essex.

Suffolk police made 858 arrests of children last year, compared with 3,716 in 2010, while Essex officers made 2,588 child arrests in 2016, down from 7,739 six years ago.

The number of child arrests by both forces has fallen year-on-year since 2010, with better partnership working and officers being able to use discretion in dealing with low-level offences highlighted as possible reasons for the large drop in rates.

The Howard League says the figures underline the success of its campaign – which began in 2010 – to keep as many children as possible out of the criminal justice system.

The charity says academic research has shown the more contact a child has with the system, the more entrenched they become – which increases reoffending rates.

The total number of children being arrested nationally fell 64% in six years – from almost 250,000 in 2010 to 87,525 in 2016.

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Frances Crook, Howard League chief executive, said: “Suffolk and Essex Police should be applauded for their positive approach, and the Howard League is proud to have played its part in a transformation that will make our communities safer.

“By working together, we are ensuring that tens of thousands of children will have a brighter future and not be dragged into a downward spiral of crime and custody.”

A spokesman for Suffolk Constabulary 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 identifying potential young offenders and will seek to address their behaviour directly before they move on to commit crime. “We are committed to steering vulnerable youths of all ages away from crime. To this end, we work very closely with partner organisations to identify and engage with those children to prevent youth offending.

“In the first instance our aim is to guide vulnerable young people away from offending, via engagement and diversionary activities.

“If a low level offence has been committed, where appropriate and with the agreement of the victim, officers can use their discretion to deal via methods such as community resolutions to reduce the number of young people going through the criminal justice system.

“However, we do take a robust stance against anti-social behaviour and crime and will always take appropriate and proportionate action.”

A spokeswoman for Essex Police said: “Arresting and putting a child or young person in a police cell is never something we do lightly.

“Wherever possible we will look to avoid taking a child into custody and look at how other options and investigations can progress with a young person talking to us voluntarily with a parent or appropriate adult support.

“Criminalising a child is a last resort where other interventions have been tried and failed or the crime is so serious that other options are inappropriate.

“Tough and proven diversions through youth offending services, voluntary organisations and restorative justice methods offer better outcomes for victims as they are more engaged in the process. Evidence shows that working voluntarily with families encourages children and young people to change their behaviour for the long term rather than just punish them for the crime in the short term.”