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10 Sep 2018

Child arrests in England and Wales reduced by more than two-thirds in seven years

  • Police made 79,012 child arrests in 2017 – one every seven minutes
  • Number of arrests down from 245,763 in 2010 – a 68 per cent reduction
  • Figures show continued success of Howard League campaign
  • Keeping children out of the criminal justice system helps prevent crime

Arrests of children in England and Wales have been reduced by more than two-thirds in the last seven years, figures published by the Howard League for Penal Reform reveal today (Monday 10 September).

Research by the charity has found that police made 79,012 arrests of children aged 17 and under last year, down by 68 per cent from almost 250,000 in 2010.

The statistics, compiled from responses to Freedom of Information requests, show the continued success of a major Howard League programme, which involves working with police forces to keep as many boys and girls as possible out of the criminal justice system.

The total number of arrests has been reduced every year since the Howard League campaign began in 2010, and the impact can be seen in every police force area in the country.

The charity’s research briefing, Child arrests in England and Wales 2017, explores some of the changes that police forces have made to reduce arrest numbers, while also shining new light on areas where further progress can be achieved.

In particular, it identifies the criminalisation of children in residential care, the criminalisation of children who are being exploited by county lines gangs, and the disproportionate levels of criminalisation of children from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds as key areas that all forces should be aware of and actively seek to address.

Keeping children out of the criminal justice system helps prevent crime. Academic research has shown that the more contact a child has with the system, the more entrenched they are likely to become, which increases offending rates.

The number of children in prison was reduced by more than 60 per cent between 2010 and 2017, as fewer boys and girls were drawn into the penal system.

Frances Crook, Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “This is the seventh year in a row that we have seen a significant reduction in the number of child arrests. It is a phenomenal achievement by the police and the Howard League, and it means that tens of thousands of children will have a brighter future without their life chances being blighted by unnecessary police contact and criminal records.

“Police forces across England and Wales have adopted a positive approach that will make our communities safer, and the Howard League is proud to have played its part in that transformation.

“We have come a long way, but there is still more work to do. The Howard League has launched a programme to end the criminalisation of children in residential care, and our research also highlights the need for better understanding of child criminal exploitation. Children who have been trafficked to commit crime should be seen as victims first and foremost.”

Every police force in England and Wales made fewer child arrests in 2017 than in 2010. The number of arrests by the largest force, the Metropolitan Police Service, has been reduced by 62 per cent – from 46,079 to 17,672.

The research briefing reveals that there were 12,495 recorded arrests of girls in 2017. Arrests of girls have been reduced at a faster rate than arrests of boys since 2010.

Arrests of primary school-age children have also been reduced. There were 616 arrests of 10- and 11-year-olds in 2017, a reduction of 12 per cent from the previous year.

Child arrest figures for England and Wales

2010: 245,763
2011: 202,961
2012: 150,062
2013: 131,718
2014: 115,444
2015: 101,678
2016: 87,525
2017: 79,012

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.
  1. The Howard League for Penal Reform made freedom of information requests for data from all police forces in England and Wales. 
  1. The report, Child arrests in England and Wales 2017, including child arrest data from each police service in England and Wales, can be read on the Howard League website at:
  1. More information about the Howard League’s programme to end the criminalisation of children in residential care can be found on the charity’s website at:


Rob Preece
Campaigns and Communications Manager
The Howard League for Penal Reform
Tel: +44 (0)20 7241 7880
Mobile: +44 (0)7714 604955

ISDN line available on 020 7923 4196 – uses a G722 system

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