Arrests of children in Sussex more than halved within eight years

Arrests of children by Sussex Police fell by 65 per cent in eight years from 2010, according to a penal reform charity.

Sunday, 10th January 2021, 1:44 pm
Updated Sunday, 10th January 2021, 1:51 pm

Figures obtained by the Howard League for Penal Reform show Sussex Police made 2,015 arrests of children in 2019 – down from 5.779 in 2010.

The charity began working with police forces across England and Wales in 2010 to reduce arrests of children, focusing instead on prevention and deterrence.

Frances Cook, the Howard League’s chief executive, 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.

Arrests of children have fallen in Sussex

“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 charity’s research, obtained through freedom of information requests to forces across the country, show there has been a 71 per cent reduction nationwide 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 reduced its arrests over that time period.

Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner Katy Bourne said Sussex has a policy of child-centred policing, led by Chief Constable Jo Shiner who is the National Policing Lead for Children and Young People.

“There’s been an enormous drive across all police forces to try and keep children out of the criminal justice system,” said Mrs Bourne.

“It’s not the sort of system you want them in because once they’re in it, it’s very hard for them to get out and it doesn’t improve their life chances.

“There always will be those young people who need stronger punishment but with the majority, it’s good to try and stop the behaviour and use preventative measures. Prevention is always better than punishment for young people.

“They’ve got their whole lives ahead of them, you don’t want to put them on the wrong path from day one.”

When CC Shiner was appointed in June, she set out the importance of not unnecessarily criminalising young people, but rather educating them on how to make the right choices.

She stressed this was not something the police force could do on its own and Sussex Police works extensively with other agencies to support young people.

Its project REBOOT initiative focuses on ten to 17-year-olds at risk of falling into criminality and places them into a five-stage process of early intervention.

More than 1,000 vulnerable children were referred to the service within the first 12 months after it started in the middle of last year.

Starting with a visit by a PCSO, the child could then be referred to a coaching service and/or undergo a vulnerability assessment.

From there, the police and partner agencies look at an ‘acceptable behaviour contract’, designed to limit the child’s exposure to risks leading to criminality.

If that fails, the Youth Offending Service will work with the child and parents to find out why they are struggling and help get them into education, training or employment.

If those four stages have been passed and the child is still at risk of falling into crime, a multi-agency panel decides on appropriate legislation, such as a civil injunction, criminal behaviour order, youth rehabilitation order or referral order.

In REBOOT’s first year, 769 children were successfully dealt with in stage one, with 211 progressing to stage two and just two children facing legal action in stage five.

Despite this, the Howard League’s research showed the number of child arrests increased between 2018 and 2019, in part as a result of operations to tackle county lines drug dealing.

The charity argued these children should be treated as victims of exploitation rather than criminals and addressing that issue was a key challenge.