Figures released by the Youth Justice Board today suggest that the case of the 10 and 11 year-olds convicted of attempted rape this week is not such a rare occurrence.
The Youth Justice Board Annual Workload Data reveals that ten and eleven year-olds were convicted, or given a reprimand or final warning, for 6,000 offences in 2008/2009, of which 66 were sex offences.
Over 70 per cent of the crimes committed by 10 and 11 year-olds were non-violent.
Reformers are pointing to both good and bad news in the new figures.
The number of offences committed by 10-17 year olds went down by 12 per cent. The number of under 18 year olds getting into trouble for the first time (receiving their first reprimand, warning or conviction) also fell by 21 per cent. There was a small reduction in custodial sentences from 6,853 in 2007/8 to 6,720 in 2008/9
However, he average population in custody on remand has not fallen since 2007/8 and the number of children imprisoned on remand has increased by 41 per cent since 2000/2001.
One in eight children in custody are there for breaching their sentences, which usually means not turning up for appointments at the Youth Offending Team office. More under-18 year-olds are in custody for this victimless 'crime' than for burglary.
One hundred and eighteen children under the age of 14 who had not been convicted or sentenced were imprisoned on remand and 1,715 ten year olds were convicted in the courts or given a pre-court disposal in 2008/9, despite the fact that three quarters of the crimes were not violent.
Nearly half the under-18 year-olds in custody had been convicted of non-violent offences (46 per cent).
Huge differences also remain in the proportion of under 18 year olds sentenced to custody in different areas of the country. In Merthyr Tydfil 20 per cent of those convicted are sentenced to custody whereas in Newcastle only 2 per cent are.
Penelope Gibbs of the Prison Reform Trust’s Out of Trouble programme said: “There are some very positive trends in youth justice in England and Wales, especially the fall in the numbers of children getting in trouble with the law for the first time, and the fall in the number of prison sentences.
"But there are also some worrying signs. The number of under-18 year-olds who are imprisoned on remand is far too high and it is a waste of precious resources to imprison so many teenagers for breach - not turning up to appointments.
"The figures also throw further light on the prosecution of children. The case of the 10 and 11 year-old convicted of attempted rape this week is not such a rare occurrence. As well as reducing the number of under 18 year olds we imprison, we need to take the very youngest out of the court system altogether”.