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14 Dec 2020

Howard League’s positive impact continues as child arrests in England and Wales are reduced by 71 per cent

The Howard League for Penal Reform’s major campaign to keep children out of the criminal justice system continues to have a positive impact, new figures reveal today (Monday 14 December), with arrests having been reduced by 71 per cent since the successful programme began.

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

The charity’s latest research briefing, Child arrests in England and Wales 2019, published today, shows a massive reduction in the number of arrests of children aged 17 and under, from 245,763 in 2010 to 71,885 in 2019. Every police force in England and Wales has achieved a reduction in arrests over this period, with all but three reducing their arrest rate by more than half.

Now the Howard League is encouraging police to build on this success and focus on areas where even more could be done to prevent children being arrested unnecessarily – particularly Black children and children from minority ethnic backgrounds, victims of child criminal exploitation, and children living in residential care.

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.

“The Howard League’s programme to reduce child arrests has shown what can be achieved by working together. Police forces have diverted resources to tackling serious crime instead of arresting children unnecessarily, and this means hundreds of thousands of boys and girls can look forward to a brighter future.

“After a successful decade spent embedding good practice across England and Wales, the challenge now is to keep up the momentum and reduce arrests still further. The Howard League will continue to support forces to make communities safer and allow more children to thrive.”

The figures published today reveal that, after eight successive years of significant reductions, the number of child arrests in England and Wales remained low in 2019, increasing only slightly from the 70,482 recorded in 2018.

Seven police forces recorded reductions of 10 per cent or more in 2019: Cambridgeshire (11 per cent); Derbyshire (10 per cent); Durham (27 per cent); Kent (13 per cent); Merseyside (12 per cent); Northamptonshire (15 per cent); and Nottinghamshire (10 per cent).

The largest police force, the Metropolitan Police, made 14,183 arrests of children in 2019. This was a 3 per cent rise on the previous year, when 13,791 arrests were made, but a 69 per cent reduction on 2010, when there were 46,079.

Although 22 police forces recorded increases in child arrests between 2018 and 2019, their numbers were much lower than when the Howard League’s campaign began in 2010. The charity has encouraged forces to analyse their data and investigate how arrests could be reduced in future.

A significant number of forces reported that the rise was believed to be, at least in part, related to operations to tackle county lines. Instead of being treated as victims, some children are being arrested because they are suspected of having committed crimes as a result of their exploitation by others. Addressing this problem will be a key challenge for forces over the next few years.

The lack of experience and training of frontline officers also appears to be a significant issue. One chief constable told the Howard League that 80 per cent of his force’s frontline response team had less than two years’ experience. This will be a problem for many forces given the current drive to recruit 20,000 more officers nationwide.

The data reveal continued inequalities for Black children and children from minority ethnic backgrounds. Government figures show that Black children are more than four times as likely as white children to be arrested. The proportion of white children arrested has fallen by 13 per cent over the last 10 years, while the proportion of Black children arrested has doubled to 16 per cent.

The disproportionate impact of the criminal justice system on Black children and children from minority ethnic backgrounds increases as they move through it, resulting in huge disparities in the numbers held on remand and serving sentences in child prisons.

The Howard League asked police forces to break down their child arrest figures by age, gender and ethnicity, and the ethnicity breakdown was revealing: data recording was inconsistent and there were huge gaps as a result of failure to record ethnicity for large numbers of children who had been arrested. In 2019, there was no record of ethnicity for more than 5,000 child arrests.

Child arrest figures for England and Wales

2010: 245,763
2016: 87,525
2017: 79,012
2018: 70,482
2019: 71,885

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.     The Howard League’s analysis is based on freedom of information data from 43 police service areas in England and Wales and the British Transport Police.

3.     Child arrests in England and Wales 2019 can be read on the Howard League website.

4.     Since 2016, the Howard League has been running a programme aimed at ending the criminalisation of children in residential care. The programme’s positive impact is revealed in a briefing, Victims not criminals: Protecting children living in residential care from criminal exploitation, which can be read on the Howard League website.

5.     Child arrest data for each police force in England and Wales is shown in the table below:

Police force Child arrests
2010   2016 2017 2018 2019
Avon and Somerset 7,255   1,533 1,342 1,251 1,259
Bedfordshire 1,853   1,085 943 682 663
British Transport Police  [a]   130{b] 865 1,160 1,406
Cambridgeshire 3,440   1,013 821 715 636
Cheshire 1,870   1,187 1,025 1,007 998
City of London 273   51 140 a 102
Cleveland 4,367   1,206 936 760 819
Cumbria 1,274   900 554 405 684
Derbyshire 4,194   797{c} 1,038 994 895
Devon and Cornwall 4,132   994 895 884 960
Dorset 2,310   447 459 495 594
Durham 3,658   1,157 1,009 830 603
Dyfed-Powys 2,307   501 341 398 388
Essex 7,739   2,588 1,923 1,942 2,055
Gloucestershire 1,516   663 649 580 554
Greater Manchester [a]   3,714 3,197 2,799 2,933
Gwent 2,503   930 747 466 594
Hampshire 8,267   1,711[d] 3,960 4,044 3,917
Hertfordshire 3,948   1,558 1,480 1,084 1,266
Humberside 5,751   1,409 1,385 1,202 1,402
Kent 7,505   2,900 2,683 2,070 1,807
Lancashire 9,779   2,775 1,893 1,826 1,654
Leicestershire 3,322   806 1,129 1,104 1,190
Lincolnshire [a]   913 779 745 696
Merseyside 10,197   2,570 2,336 2,151 1,900
Metropolitan 46,079   20,387 17,672 13,791 14,183
Norfolk 2,510   1,261 1,083 1,374 1,448
North Wales 3,420   1,532 1,040 531 536
North Yorkshire 4,525   1,291 1,034 1,077 1,065
Northamptonshire 2,594   885 880 918 777
Northumbria 11,407   2,838 2,440 2,136 2,092
Nottinghamshire 5,743   1,466 1,466 1,357 1,220
South Wales 5,659   2,499 1,820 1,728 1,842
South Yorkshire 6,235   1,396 1,302[e] 1,236 1,465
Staffordshire 4,163   1,350 1,081 1,105 1,093
Suffolk 3,716   858 903 1,034 1,120
Surrey 1,955   889 730 751 778
Sussex 5,779   2,185 1,893 1,766 2,015
Thames Valley 8,012   2,446 2,482 2,525 2,361
Warwickshire 1,419   597 447 411 511
West Mercia 5,491   1,247 805 655[f] 1,052
West Midlands 14,387   5,244 4,674 4,049 3,960
West Yorkshire 12,947   4,663 3,953 3,697 3,577
Wiltshire 2,262   953 778 747 815
TOTAL 245,763   87,525 79,012 70,482 71,885


[a] Data unavailable.

[b] Data limited to the period from 1 January 2016 to 20 February 2016 as crime recording system was changed.

[c] Limited data – some data were lost when a new system was introduced.

[d] Police force provided data for number of children arrested, not number of arrests. Data for 2017 to 2019 relate to number of arrests and are therefore not directly comparable with previous years.

[e] Does not include data from 6 December 2017 onwards, as a new recording system was implemented.

[f] West Mercia did not include all 2018 arrest data in its response to a freedom of information request.


Rob Preece
Campaigns and Communications Manager
Mobile: +44 (0)7714 604955

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