Police urged to stop detaining children

News Release

14 October 2013

Police urged to stop detaining children as figures show almost 800 boys and girls are held overnight in cells every week

Almost 800 children are locked up overnight in police cells each week, figures obtained by the Howard League for Penal Reform reveal today.

New research by the charity shows that there were more than 40,000 overnight detentions of children aged 17 and under in police stations across England and Wales during 2011.

This equates to an average of 112 detentions per night – although the true number is likely to be far higher as some of the largest police services in the country were unable to provide figures.

The data shows that the number of overnight detentions is falling – a success for the Howard League’s campaign to reduce the number of children getting caught up in the criminal justice system.

But now the charity is calling for the practice of holding children overnight in police cells to be brought to an end altogether.

The Howard League is urging police to work more closely with parents and children’s services to provide safe and appropriate care for boys and girls who come to their attention.

A briefing paper published by the charity also calls for the presumption of bail to be strictly applied to children, as well as pushing for all police to be trained in safeguarding and child protection.

Frances Crook, Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “Holding children as young as ten in police cells overnight is unjustifiable. The vast majority of children who are locked up are innocent of any crime, and it is a frightening and intimidating experience which does more harm than good.

“It is encouraging to see that the number of detentions is falling, thanks in part to our successful campaigning. This is a victory for common sense, prudent use of police resources and improved community relations.

“But the number remains far too high and it is particularly worrying to see that practice varies widely from police service to police service.

“What boys and girls need in most cases is simply to go home. On rare occasions, somewhere safe – not somewhere secure – should be provided by the local authority.

“Parents, not police, should be taking responsibility for their children.

“Police are to be congratulated for the significant fall in the use of police cells in recent years. It is extravagantly expensive to detain children at a time of austerity, particularly when almost all of them are innocent, or have just been naughty and that behaviour can be dealt with quickly and safely by parents.”

In 2010, police recorded more than 45,000 overnight detentions of children aged 17 and under.

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.

Over the two-year period, there were 387 overnight detentions of children of primary school age.

Girls accounted for 15 per cent of the total number of detentions.

The figures are to be presented to MPs in Parliament tomorrow (15 October) at a Howard League event with Jacqui Cheer, the Chief Constable of Cleveland Police and the Association of Chief Police Officers’ lead on children and young people.

Number of overnight detentions of children by police in England and Wales

2010: 45,318

2011: 40,716

Notes to editors

  • The Howard League for Penal Reform is the oldest penal reform charity in the world. It is a national charity working for less crime, safer communities and fewer people in prison.
  • The Howard League for Penal Reform obtained overnight data through freedom of information requests submitted to each police service in England and Wales.
  • The Howard League for Penal Reform’s recommendations are listed in the research briefing Overnight detention of children in police custody 2010-11, which is available online: 
  • Overnight detention data, broken down by police service, is shown in the table below:

Police service

Number of overnight detentions

2010

2011

Boys

Girls

Total

Boys

Girls

Total

Bedfordshire

18

4

22

8

1

9

Cambridgeshire

298

51

349

229

62

291

Cheshire

1030

200

1230

736

158

894

City of London

67

11

78

44

11

55

Cumbria

379

103

482

364

79

443

Derbyshire

1236

245

1481

1053

218

1271

Devon and Cornwall

320

73

393

217

68

285

Durham

752

198

950

779

193

972

Dyfed Powys

378

98

476

333

76

409

Gloucestershire

55

11

66

46

16

62

Gwent

96

12

108

87

5

92

Hertfordshire

759

90

849

589

42

631

Humberside

1428

242

1670

1349

279

1628

Kent

1694

394

2088

1627

378

2005

Lancashire

2282

414

2696

1970

344

2314

Leicestershire

498

92

590

470

76

546

Lincolnshire

14

2

16

18

1

19

Merseyside

1417

200

1617

1313

209

1522

Metropolitan

12707

1663

14370

12319

1541

13860

Norfolk

282

56

338

280

72

352

North Wales*

675

181

904

487

161

694

North Yorkshire

516

172

688

453

126

579

Northamptonshire

109

14

123

79

6

85

Nottinghamshire

1214

218

1432

1057

168

1225

South Wales

769

1498

917

674

124

798

South Yorkshire

1066

204

1270

875

169

1044

Suffolk

290

67

357

206

68

274

Surrey

unknown

unknown

460

unknown

unknown

536

Sussex

1391

329

1720

1214

350

1564

Thames Valley

1804

379

2183

1634

342

1976

Warwickshire

197

38

235

182

24

206

West Mercia

464

102

566

366

99

465

West Yorkshire

3793

676

4469

3093

636

3729

Wiltshire

405

137

542

288

83

371

TOTAL*

38403

6824

45735

34439

6185

41206

*Totals include cases where the child’s sex was not reported.

Nine police services were unable to supply data in the format requested: Avon and Somerset; Cleveland; Dorset; Essex; Greater Manchester; Hampshire; Northumbria; Staffordshire; and West Midlands.

There are variations in the way police services calculate overnight detentions and some figures may not be directly comparable.

Contact

Rob Preece
Press Officer
Tel: +44 (0)20 7241 7880
Mobile: +44 (0)7714 604955
Email: robert.preece@howardleague.org

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