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Arrests of children by Bedfordshire Police have reduced by 69 per cent over the last decade, figures from the Howard League for Penal Reform campaign reveal today (Monday 23 August).

Since 2010, the Howard League has worked 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.

It said Bedfordshire Police made 568 child arrests in 2020. This compares to 663 the year before and 1,853 in 2010, the year that the Howard League campaign began.

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.

“Bedfordshire Police has 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.”

Detective Superintendent Louisa Glynn told the Cranfield and Marston Vale Chronicle:

“We do not want to criminalise children unnecessarily, particularly if they are actually victims of exploitation through things like county lines, so it is pleasing that the number of young people arrested in Bedfordshire has continued to fall.

“We have done a lot of work with our officers to educate them and raise their awareness of how in many cases, a victim of crime may be a perpetrator and a perpetrator of crime may also be a victim.

“We still have a long way to go, but we are making improvements in our collective understanding of these issues, which is reflected in today’s figures.

“We also recognise the value of alternative ways of dealing with young people involved in crime, and the importance of understanding the root causes of behaviour so we can work with partners to offer support and divert them away from becoming entrenched in criminality, such as through the Bedfordshire Violence and Exploitation Reduction Unit.

“Sadly there will be occasions where criminal sanctions are the only option. But it is important that we do all we can, with partners and indeed families and communities themselves, to understand the causes of young people becoming involved in crime and help show them a brighter future.”

“Significant reduction” in child arrests over the last decade

The Howard League said that 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.

Adding that 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.

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 Bedfordshire Police:

2010: 1,853
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2017: 943
2018: 682
2019: 663
2020: 568