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Howard League blog · 14 Dec 2020

A decade of success that has benefitted hundreds of thousands of children

One of the Howard League successes I am most proud of is the work with police to reduce child arrests. When a decade ago we discovered that police were carrying out a third of a million child arrests a year, it was so shocking that we decided to act.

These children were being challenging young teenagers, they were not violent, but merely annoying. Yet their lives were being blighted, many were being shoved through the criminal justice system and some even ending up in prisons.

The huge flow of children into the system was resulting in over 3,000 being held in prisons at any one time, and many thousands going through penal custody over a year. Bad for children, bad for their angry parents, bad for communities and bad for the police.

We learnt that no other national charity was working with the police on the issue, and we found that police forces were keen to partner with us and for the Howard League to act as a fulcrum for sharing good practice and ideas.

There are not many good news stories in the criminal justice system. I am pleased that we have contributed to this one.

I have been meeting with chief constables, senior and local officers. We have spent time in police stations talking to custody officers. Each year we publish a briefing with the statistics and with stories about how various forces have changed and introduced new ways of working.

Most importantly, they have just stopped arresting children. Getting people to stop doing something, not necessarily to do something differently, but just to stop, is often one of the biggest challenges.

So it is fantastic news that each year fewer and fewer children have had their lives blighted by experiencing an unnecessary arrest and police are able to devote their resources to dealing with more serious issues.

Today we have published the seventh briefing since our first that reviewed child arrests from 2008 to 2011. From 2008 when 314,521 child arrests to today’s briefing that shows only 71,855, we know that hundreds of thousands of children have benefitted over the years.

There are not many good news stories in the criminal justice system. I am pleased that we have contributed to this one.


  • Rona Epstein says:

    That is excellent! Well done, The Howard League and well done Frances for your inspired leadership! I am full of admiration for this achievement. It is really important. Now I hope it can be followed by a similar lowering of the numbers of vulnerable women sent to prison, especially at their most vulnerable moment when pregnant. We’d like everyone to know about our just started research, at Coventry University:
    Please contact us with any ideas for how we can reach out to our target group of women and ask them to tell us their story.
    We want to hear their voices, but we first have to find them!

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