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23 Aug 2021

Child arrests in England and Wales reduced by 74 per cent in a decade

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

Notes to editors

  1. The Howard League for Penal Reform is the oldest penal reform charity in the world. It is a national charity working for less crime, safer communities and fewer people in prison.
  2. Child arrest data was provided by police forces in response to freedom of information requests by the Howard League. Detailed analysis of the figures will be published in a Howard League briefing later this year.
  3. The Howard League ran a programme aimed at ending the criminalisation of children in residential care. The transformative impact of the campaign was revealed last month when government figures showed that children living in residential care were three times less likely to be criminalised than they were in 2014: https://howardleague.org/news/more-success-for-howard-league-programme-as-criminalisation-rate-for-children-in-residential-care-reduces-further/
  4. Child arrest data for each police force in England and Wales is shown in the table below:
Police force Child arrests
2010   2017 2018 2019 2020
Avon and Somerset 7,255 1,342 1,251 1,259 1,029
Bedfordshire 1,853 943 682 663 568
British Transport Police (a) 865 1,160 1,406 1,103
Cambridgeshire 3,440 821 715 636 639
Cheshire 1,870 1,025 1,007 998 754
City of London 273 140 (a) 102 82
Cleveland 4,367 936 760 819 944
Cumbria 1,274 554 405 684 460
Derbyshire 4,194 1,038 994 895 804
Devon and Cornwall 4,132 895 884 960 1,015
Dorset 2,310 459 495 594 485
Durham 3,658 1,009 830 603 581
Dyfed-Powys 2,307 341 398 388 318
Essex 7,739 1,923 1,942 2,055 1,805
Gloucestershire 1,516 649 580 554 515
Greater Manchester (a) 3,197 2,799 2,933 2,439
Gwent 2,503 747 466 594 626
Hampshire 8,267 3,960 4,044 3,917 3,283
Hertfordshire 3,948 1,480 1,084(c) 1,266 1,059
Humberside 5,751 1,385 1,202 1,402 1,310
Kent 7,505 2,683 2,070 1,807 1,813
Lancashire 9,779 1,893 1,826 1,654 1,483
Leicestershire 3,322 1,129 1,104 1,190 904
Lincolnshire (a) 779 745 696 587
Merseyside 10,197 2,336 2,151 1,900 1,484
Metropolitan 46,079 17,672 13,791 14,183 13,599
Norfolk 2,510 1,083 1,374 1,448 955
North Wales 3,420 1,040     531(c) 536 475
North Yorkshire 4,525 1,034 1,077 1,065 905
Northamptonshire 2,594 880 918 777 629
Northumbria 11,407 2,440 2,136 2,092 1,833
Nottinghamshire 5,743 1,466 1,357 1,220 841
South Wales 5,659 1,820 1,728 1,842 1,337
South Yorkshire 6,235 1,302(b) 1,236(c) 1,465 1,320
Staffordshire 4,163 1,081 1,105 1,093 208(b)
Suffolk 3,716 903 1,034 1,120 852
Surrey 1,955 730 751 778 774
Sussex 5,779 1,893 1,766 2,015 1,858
Thames Valley 8,012 2,482 2,525 2,361 2,242
Warwickshire 1,419 447 411 511 505
West Mercia 5,491 805 655(b) 1,052 887
West Midlands 14,387 4,674 4,049 3,960 3,431
West Yorkshire 12,947 3,953 3,697 3,577 3,270
Wiltshire 2,262 1,447(c) 1,254(c) 1,405(c) 1,261
TOTAL 245,763 79,681(c) 70,989(c) 72,475(c) 63,272

[a] Data unavailable.

[b] Incomplete data provided.

[c] Updated from previous briefings after revised data provided.

 

Contact

Rob Preece
Campaigns and Communications Manager
Mobile: +44 (0)7714 604955
Email: robert.preece@howardleague.org

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