Police arrest almost 100 girls a day in England and Wales, figures obtained by the Howard League for Penal Reform reveal today (19 March).
However, the overall number has almost halved in three years after the charity launched a campaign aimed at keeping as many children as possible out of the criminal justice system.
Police made more than 34,000 arrests of girls aged 17 and younger during 2011, whereas three years earlier in 2008, more than 62,000 arrests were recorded. Several police services have reviewed their arrest procedures and policies as a result of the Howard League’s engagement with them.
Fourteen police services recorded a fall in arrests of more than 50 per cent. They were Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Dorset, Essex, Gloucestershire, Hertfordshire, Humberside, Lancashire, Northumbria, Suffolk, Thames Valley, Warwickshire, West Midlands and West Yorkshire.
Only one police service, City of London, recorded an increase.
The statistics were published following a year-long inquiry on girls conducted by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Women in the Penal System. The inquiry found that responding to teenage girls’ behaviour too harshly or disproportionately can make it more likely that they will be drawn further into the justice system, leading to more serious problems.
Frances Crook, Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “It is encouraging to see that police are making almost half as many arrests of girls as they were in 2008, thanks in part to our effective campaigning. A significant fall in the number of children entering the justice system is good news for everyone striving to reduce crime and saves the taxpayer untold millions.
“Our evidence shows that the police were arresting girls completely unnecessarily when they were out partying, often with the mistaken intention of protecting them. Now the police are handing out flip-flops and helping the girls home, a much more sensible response.
“There are a very few girls who have welfare needs such as poverty and substance misuse, or are victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse. Rather than being criminalised, these girls need protection from serious harm and support to help them mature into law-abiding citizens.
“The challenge for police services now is to maintain this trend of arresting fewer children. Only last week the Commons Justice Committee reported that too many children were being criminalised for trivial incidents, so it is remarkable that, although only 50 girls in the whole country are considered to have committed such serious crimes to merit custody, police carried out more than 34,000 arrests during 2011."
She concluded:“Reducing the number of arrests still further would release resources to deal with real crimes.”
Last December, the Howard League published data which showed that the total number of children – boys and girls – arrested by police had fallen by a third between 2008 and 2011.
In total, more than one million child arrests have been made in England and Wales since 2008.