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“Prevention is better than cure” - fewer children entering criminal justice system

PUBLISHED: 17:29 30 March 2018 | UPDATED: 17:29 30 March 2018

File photo of the gold statue of the figure of justice, holding scales and a sword. Photo: Clara Molden/PA Wire

File photo of the gold statue of the figure of justice, holding scales and a sword. Photo: Clara Molden/PA Wire

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The number of children cautioned or convicted for a first offence in Norfolk are a fraction of what they were 10 years ago, new figures have revealed.

Changes in police policy and an overall fall in crime has seen an 87pc drop in the number of youngsters entering the criminal justice system, according to statistics from the Ministry of Justice (MoJ).

In 2007, 1,793 children aged between 10 and 17 were convicted or cautioned by police for the first time - but by 2017 there were just 250.

The data is taken from a national police database and records a young person’s first caution or conviction but does not include repeat offenders.

According to a 2016 report on first-time entrants by the MoJ, police forces have shifted their focus away from low-level crimes which are more likely to be committed by children.

Thumb print. Photo: Antony Kelly.Thumb print. Photo: Antony Kelly.

“In 2002, a target was introduced to increase the number and reduce the gap between the numbers of crimes recorded by the police and those for which a perpetrator is identified,” the report found.

Head of service at the Norfolk Youth Offending Team (YOT), Val Crewdson, said positive interventions are being made to keep children out of criminality.

“We want Norfolk’s young people to have the best chance to thrive into adulthood and labelling them at a young age can impact on their future,” she said.

“Prevention is better than cure and the earlier we can address emerging behaviour the better. We are seeking to build on young people’s strengths and positive characteristics avoiding negative stereotyping and labelling of young people as ‘problems’.”

She added the number of first time entrants has been brought down so dramatically as the YOT has provided “a positive community based alternative” - the Challenge 4 Change (C4C) scheme which targets young people who would otherwise receive a police caution.

“A screening and assessment is carried out on all young people referred to the C4C scheme to identify needs,” she said.

“The C4C programme is individually designed for each young person who takes part. This enables participants to consider the consequences of their actions without receiving a criminal record. Through active participation with C4C, young people keep open options that would be closed to them if they had a criminal record.”

National focus to avoid criminalising young people

Kevin Wilkins, head of joint criminal justice at Norfolk and Suffolk Constabularies, said there has been a “national focus” and “intention not to unecessarily criminalise young people” since 2007.

He added the introduction of the C4C scheme in 2016 was a “significant change”.

“It means that when a young person is arrested by the police their case is reviewed and if assessed by YOT as suitable for an intervention to prevent them entering the criminal justice system,” he said. “The intention is to prevent a young person from becoming a first time offender and potentially reoffending.

“In 2013, there was also a national change in the youth out of court framework and what used to be called reprimands and final warnings for young people were replaced with youth cautions and conditional cautions. This gave clarity to the type of disposals which should be used and ensured that the police and the YOT worked together to reduce first time entrants and reduce reoffending.”


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