Overnight detention

Overnight detentions of children in police custody 2010 – 2011

In 2011, the Howard League for Penal Reform published a report, Overnight detention of children in police cells, following analysis of data from a Freedom of Information (FOI) request to all 43 police services in England and Wales. The request asked for information about the numbers of children under the age of 16 detained in police cells in 2008 and 2009. Twenty-four police service areas provided data which showed that there had been approximately 53,000 overnight detentions of children.

The Howard League made a second FOI request seeking the same information for 2010 and 2011. This time, data was also requested for 16- and 17-year-olds. Thirty-four police service areas responded and 32 police areas provided a breakdown of the data by age for children aged 17 and under.

The data obtained by the Howard League shows that there were a total of 86,034 overnight detentions of children in 2010 and 2011. The number of detentions of children in police custody had declined from 45,318 in 2010 to 40,716 in 2011, a reduction of 10 per cent. There has been a successful overall decline in the numbers of children detained overnight; however there were wide variations in practice in the way police areas count and record children held overnight.

Key points include:

  • The number of overnight detentions of children aged 10–13 years in police custody had fallen.
  • There were 2,617 overnight detentions of children aged 10–13 in 2010, compared with 2,292 in 2011, a fall of 12 per cent.
  • Children aged 10–13 accounted for 5 per cent of the total of all overnight detentions of children in 2010 and 2011.
  •  Of the 86,034 overnight detentions, 387 were of children of primary school age.
  • 15% of the total numbers of overnight detentions in 2010 and 2011 were of girls.
  • The drop in detentions has coincided with a 15 per cent fall in the number of child arrests. Several police services have reviewed their arrest policies and procedures as a result of the Howard League’s positive engagement with them.

Key recommendations include:

  • The practice of detaining children overnight in police cells should be brought to an end
  • Police services should work more closely with children’s services to provide safe and appropriate care for children who come to their attention
  • Following the court judgment that PACE should be amended to make child protection processes consistent for 17-year-olds, new guidelines must be issued to police services.

Overnight detention of children in police custody 2010-2011.