ARRESTS of children by South Yorkshire Police have fallen by more than three-quarters in the past six years, according to new figures.
The Howard League for Penal Reform welcomed the drop from 6,235 in 2010 to 1,396 in 2016 as a “ tremendous achievement”.
Across England and Wales, the total number of arrests arrests of children aged 17 and under last year has fallen by 64 per cent in six years — from almost 250,000 in 2010 to 87,525 in 2016.
The Howard League works with police forces to keep as many boys and girls as possible out of the criminal justice system.
Academic research has shown that the more contact a child has with the system, the more entrenched they are likely to become, which increases reoffending rates.
Frances Crook, chief executive of the Howard League, said: “For the sixth year running, we have seen a significant reduction in child arrests across the country.
“This is a tremendous achievement, and we will continue to support police forces to develop their good practice and reduce the number to an absolute minimum.
“South Yorkshire 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.”
Every police force in England and Wales made fewer child arrests in 2016 than in 2010. All but four forces brought down their number of arrests by more than half.
Nationwide, there were 703 arrests of primary-age children (ten- and 11-year-olds) in 2016, a reduction of 18 per cent from the previous year.
The Howard League highlighted examples of police forces helping to avoid arrests, including how Durham Police officers are encouaged to take a problem-solving approach rather than rely on arrests, while Surrey Police has given training to all custody and frontline staff, focusing on the need to reduce the number of children arrested.
But a Howard League pointed out there was still work to do, with a child having been arrested every six minutes in England and Wales in 2016.
South Yorkshire Police’s head of custody, Chief Insp Helen Lewis, said: “Early education intervention and alternative disposals working with Youth Offending Teams has supported this reduction, and these disposals are more appropriate to insure young people are not criminalised for their behaviour when alternative disposals are more appropriate.
“There will, however, be occasions where young people are rightly detained in custody and the use of the criminal justice system is necessary to address their offending behaviour.”
Entering custody was a “traumatic” experience for most young people, she said, so an “appropriate adult” was always with them and they were each seen by an NHS mental health worker to ensure they receive appropriate support.
Once released, all young people had their cases referred to local authority social care for any further behaviour issues to be considered.