ARRESTS of children by Gwent Police have more than halved in five years, mirroring the trend across England and Wales. A general fall in crime, restorative justice projects, and a focus on trying to prevent young people from becoming involved in crime in the first place, are all factors.
LAST week, the Welsh Government announced an investment of £4.9 million across Wales to help tackle the issue of youth offending.
Fifty-five projects will be supported by the grant, which follows a similar investment last year, and 12 of the newly-backed schemes will be based in Gwent, where more than £1m of the money will be spent.
Among those that will receive a portion of the £1,049,840 funding in Gwent is the Prevention Intervention Project, which focuses on preventing anti-social behaviour, offending and reoffending by young people aged eight to 17 years.
Another is the Caerphilly county borough-based Family Intervention Project, which offers whole family support where anti-social behaviour by younger family members may be jeopardising the tenancy of housing to the extent where the family is at risk of eviction.
The money is coming from the Youth Crime Prevention Fund, which Lesley Griffiths AM, minister for local government and government business, believes is a “crucial” aid to helping prevent young people from getting involved in crime.
The fund’s reach is wide ranging, with some of the projects being backed focusing on issues such as improving education, training, health and leisure opportunities, and others looking at tackling substance misuse.
“I have no doubt these initiatives will continue to make a difference in preventing young people from becoming involved in crime,” said Ms Griffiths.
“As well as protecting them from the stigmatisation and loss of opportunity which having a criminal record brings, these activities will protect our communities.”
Figures issued last week by the Howard League for Penal Reform suggest that such multi-million pound initiatives are having an effect on youth crime.
The league, which is continuing to campaign to keep as many children as possible out of the criminal justice system, compared child arrest figures for police forces in England and Wales from 2008 and 2013, and found that they had fallen by 60 per cent during that period.
The decrease in Gwent was 51 per cent, from 3,185 in 2008 to 1,569 in 2013.
Across England and Wales in 2013, there were 129,274 arrests of children aged 17 and under, including more than 1,100 arrests of 10 or 11-year-olds.
Another contributory factor to the fall in child arrests isrestorative justice. A restorative justice programme is a big part of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012, and Gwent Police was the first force in Wales to have implemented it across an entire force area.
That was in April last year. In the first four weeks, 30 offenders were identified as suitable candidates to take part in the programme and the number has grown as the programme has developed. By the end of February this year, there had been 473 ‘discharges’ from the system of young people who might otherwise have ended up with a criminal record.
Two key aims of the programme are to avoid criminalising often very young offenders, and offering victims a part in the process of justice.Those suitable for the restorative justice programme will have committed and admitted a first offence such as minor assault, criminal damage, public order, theft or fraud.
They are bailed for 28 days, during which youth offender services notify the victim or victims, and seek their opinion on what they think might be the best solution. A youth offender panel, consisting of police officers, youth offender team members, and members of the public, then decides the appropriate outcome, taking into account victims’ views and the circumstances of the case.
Outcomes can include a face to face meeting with the victim, and a written apology, or repair work if property was damaged. Only if an offender refuses to take part in the programme or accept the panel’s decision, will they be charged in the usual way.
Another reason why child arrests have fallen is the fact that – despite cynicism in some areas, including Gwent, over how crime is measured – crime in general has fallen too. The Crime Survey for England and Wales reported that there were 7.5million crimes against households and adults in 2013, the lowest level since it began in 1981. Overall, crime in England and Wales fell by 15 per cent last year.
If the multi-million pound investment in prevention projects, and the restorative justice programme are successful, future Howard League for Penal Reform studies should see child arrests continue to fall.