Child arrests reduced by 74% in a decade

Police made 63,272 child arrests in England and Wales in 2020

Arrests reduced by 74 per cent since 245,763 were made in 2010

Figures show continued success of Howard League campaign

Keeping children out of the criminal justice system helps prevent crime

Arrests of children have been reduced by 74 per cent over the last decade, figures reveal today (Monday 23 August) in another major step forward for a successful Howard League for Penal Reform campaign.

Since 2010, the Howard League has been working with police forces across England and Wales to reduce child arrests, helping to ensure that hundreds of thousands of boys and girls do not have their lives blighted by a criminal record.

Data provided by police forces show that arrests of children aged 17 and under were reduced by 13 per cent last year – from 72,475 in 2019 to 63,272 in 2020. This continues a positive trend seen throughout the decade since 2010, when 245,763 arrests were recorded.

The impact can be observed nationwide. Every regional police force in England and Wales has achieved a significant reduction in child arrests over the last decade, with all but one reducing their arrest rate by at least 60 per cent.

Academic research has shown that each contact a child has with the criminal justice system drags them deeper into it, leading to more crime. This is why the Howard League is working to keep as many boys and girls as possible out of the system in the first place.

Frances Crook, Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “Every child deserves the chance to grow and fulfil their potential, and we must do all we can to ensure that they are not held back by a criminal record.

“A decade of success for the Howard League’s programme to reduce child arrests has given hundreds of thousands of children a brighter future. Police forces have made giant strides, diverting resources to tackling serious crime instead of arresting children unnecessarily, and this approach will help to make our communities safer.

“As we begin to emerge from the pandemic, and as police forces recruit thousands more officers, the challenge now is to build on this success and reduce arrests still further. Keeping up the momentum will enable even more children to thrive.”

Nine police forces recorded reductions of 20 per cent or more in 2020: Cheshire (24 per cent); Cumbria (33 per cent); Leicestershire (24 per cent); Merseyside (22 per cent); Norfolk (34 per cent); Nottinghamshire (31 per cent); South Wales (27 per cent); Suffolk (24 per cent); and British Transport Police (22 per cent).

The largest force, the Metropolitan Police, made 13,599 child arrests in 2020. This was a 4 per cent reduction on the previous year and a 70 per cent reduction on 2010, when 46,079 arrests were recorded.

As in previous years, the Howard League asked police forces to provide figures broken down by age, gender and ethnicity. Detailed analysis of the data will be published in a briefing later this year.

Police forces achieved a significant reduction in arrests of primary school-aged children – boys and girls aged 11 and under – from 392 in 2019 to 261 in 2020.

But the Howard League found no obvious improvement in the way police recorded ethnicity. There were almost 5,200 arrests in 2020 for which the ethnicity of the child was not recorded.

Child arrest figures for England and Wales

2010: 245,763
2017: 79,681
2018: 70,989
2019: 72,475
2020: 63,272

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