Child arrests in Surrey down by nearly half in five years

The number of children arrested by Surrey Police has fallen by nearly half in five years.

The Howard League for Penal Reform, the oldest penal reform charity in the UK, has flagged up figures obtained under a Freedom of Information request which show child arrests down in the county by 48% since 2008. The data showed child arrest numbers in Surrey had dropped from 2,913 in 2008 to 1,524 in 2013.

The figures showed the number of children arrested in Surrey had fallen every year except for 2011, when numbers climbed by 19 on the year before, and last year, when arrests of children went up by 41 on 2012.

The charity said the welcome trend had followed its campaign aimed at keeping as many children as possible out of the criminal justice system.

It said police services across the country have reviewed their arrest procedures and policies as a result of its work with them.

But it added that child arrests remain all too common nationwide.

The charity stated a child was arrested every four minutes in England and Wales last year.

Frances Crook, chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “It is encouraging to see that Surrey Police are making significantly fewer arrests of children than they were in 2008, thanks in part to our effective campaigning.”

Ms Crook said: “Most police services in England and Wales have developed successful local initiatives that resolve issues quickly and cheaply, involve victims in the justice process and, crucially, avoid criminalising boys and girls.

“A sharp fall in the number of children entering the justice system is good news for everyone striving to reduce crime and saves the taxpayer untold millions.”

She continued: “The challenge for police now is to maintain this trend. “At a time of austerity, further reducing the number of children arrested would free up more officer time to deal with serious crimes.”

Last year, police in England and Wales made 129,274 arrests of children aged 17 and under. These included 1,107 arrests of children who were aged ten or 11 - meaning that, on average, three primary school-age children were arrested every day. In 2008, the total number of child arrests was as high as 318,053 – equivalent to an arrest every 99 seconds.

In total, police made more than 1.3 million arrests of children between January 2008 and December 2013.

Children in England and Wales can be arrested by police from the age of ten – the lowest age of criminal responsibility in Western Europe.

A Howard League briefing paper on the child arrest figures recommends that the age of criminal responsibility should be raised to 14, in line with the European average.

The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child has stated that an age of criminal responsibility below 12 is unacceptable.

The Howard League for Penal Reform is a national charity working for less crime, safer communities and fewer people in prison.

Generally, a child within the criminal justice system is aged ten to 17 years old inclusive. However, in the context of the police station, until April 2013, a 17-year-old was treated as an adult. This meant that they were not afforded the additional protections offered to children when they were arrested, such as having a parent or an appropriate adult present during interviews. This was changed by a landmark judgement in the High Court, where it was acknowledged that the law was out of kilter with domestic and international provisions that recognise those aged 17 and under as children. The Howard League supported this judicial review, taken by Just for Kids Law.

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