‘Innocent 10-year-olds’ locked overnight in police cells

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CALLS were today made to reduce the number of young people getting locked up in police cells.

New figures reveal that 19 youngsters are locked up overnight in Durham Police cells each week.

The latest statistics, from the Howard League for Penal Reform, show there were 972 detentions of children aged 17 and under in the county’s police stations during 2011.

No statistics were provided in relation to the Northumbria force area.

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

Frances Crook, chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “Holding children as young as 10 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.

“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.”

The total of young people held in cells across England and Wales was 40,716 – which equates to an average of 112 detentions per night.

In 2010, police in Durham recorded 950 youngsters held in cells.

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

Chief Inspector Steve Ball, operations manager for custody and criminal justice reform at Durham, said: “There will always be some offenders for whom there is little alternative than to be detained in custody, but Durham Constabulary is determined to drive down the overall arrest rates and criminalisation of young people and to focus instead upon intervention and positive lifestyles.

“With that in mind, we have been involved in a number of projects with other agencies, including local youth offending services.

“Since a new code of practice was introduced in November 2012, officers have a positive obligation to look at alternatives to custody, particularly for vulnerable groups such as those aged 17 and under. This has been reinforced with specialist in-house training.

“We are also working with our local authorities to explore alternatives to custody once an investigation involving a young person has resulted in a charge and they are to be kept in for appearance at the next available court, which can often be overnight.

“The various strands of work so far have led to significant reductions in the numbers of young people being brought into the criminal justice system for the first time. For example, there has been a 74 per cent reduction in the number of first time entrants from 2007/8 to 2011/12, with a further 15 per cent fall in the current financial year.

“There has at the same time been a 50 per cent reduction in reported youth crime and the number of victims by 50 per