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NEW figures have shown that the number of children arrested by Gwent Police has fallen by 63 per cent in the last six years.

The force made 930 arrests of children aged 17 and under last year, which was down from 2,503 in 2010.

Police forces across the UK monitored the number of children arrested and these figures were then sent to the Howard League for Penal Reform.

The League is the oldest penal reform charity in the UK and was established in 1866. Named after John Howard, one of the first prison reformers, it works to make communities safer as well as lessen the amount of crime, while keeping people out of the prison system.

All but four UK forces saw a reduction of more than a half in the number of children arrested, with the total number by 64 per cent in six years, from almost 250,000 in 2010 to 87,525 in 2016.

Rob Preece, campaigns and communications manager at The Howard League for Penal Reform said that it is “so important” for children to be kept out of the criminal justice system – not only to stop them from reoffending but to keep them in education.

He said: “We are stopping a large number of children being arrested across England and Wales.

“Police forces used to be target driven which caused some problems as children were arrested over and over again and just went back into the criminal justice system.

“We don’t think that is the way forward, as the more times children are arrested, the more chance there is that that child will be back in the criminal justice system again before long.

“We work very closely with police forces to stop these children being entrenched in the criminal system. It is not only in the beneficial for the prison system but it is also in the child’s interest as well.

“Having that criminal record as a child means it’s difficult to get places at a good school and affects their future in terms of jobs.”

Mr Preece believes the way to stop children from being arrested is to question and speak to children instead of just immediately arresting them.

With police forces making this happen and having different programmes in place to rehabilitate children after they have committed a crime, Mr Preece says it means children are less likely to reoffend.

He said: “There are many different programmes in place with various forces which help children who have been involved in crime and it means that their lives are not blighted by a criminal record.

“It’s also a case of officers seeing a child – for example a teenager in a park or on the street drinking at night – and instead of arresting, just thinking and asking where are their parents, why are they there.

“In some cases, child crime is due to issues at home.”

The statistics by the Howard League for Penal Reform show that nationwide there were 703 arrests of primary-age children (10 and 11-years-old) in 2016, a reduction of 18 per cent from the previous year.

Gwent Police say that in order to help children stay away from crime, officers are “proportionate and fair” when dealing with children.

The force also works with partners and youth groups to help children stay away from crime.

Temporary deputy chief constable of Gwent Police Pam Kelly said: “Whilst it’s our duty to investigate all allegations of crime, regardless of the age of the suspects, we are conscious of ensuring that we are proportionate and fair when dealing with children.

“We have been working closely with our partners in the local authorities to provide diversionary activities for young people, ensuring that they have a meaningful ways to spend their spare time.

“We also work closely with youth offending teams to ensure, where reasonable, that young people are not criminalised for mistakes that could be damaging to their future.”

And Gwent’s police and crime commissioner, Jeff Cuthbert, said the force work together to make sure that children’s welfare is taken into account and said that children and young people are no longer detained under the Mental Health Act in police custody.

He also said that Gwent Police are in the process of developing a Gwent-specific, child-centred policing strategy which will aim to help children who get into crime.

Mr Cuthbert said: “As the police and crime commissioner for Gwent, I am responsible for setting the strategic direction for policing in the region.

“One of the key values and principles featured within my police and crime plan for Gwent is to have regard to the needs, safeguarding and welfare of children.

“The Policing and Crime Act 2017 has been developed with the intention of making policing more accountable.

“One of the provisions in the Act that I have welcomed is the move to stop children and young people being detained under the Mental Health Act in police custody as a ‘place of safety’. This will be restricted for adults too.

“I am also committed to the implementation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) and in ensuring that its principles are embedded in the work of my office and that of Gwent Police to implement the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act 2015.

“My office and Gwent Police are also actively working with our partners to follow the National Police Chiefs’ Council strategy on child-centred policing and see this as important work to implementing the UNCRC and deliver a child rights approach to policing in Gwent.

“We are in the process of developing our own Gwent specific ‘child-centred practice’ strategy.

“Both Gwent Police and my office are also working with our partners to develop a diversion scheme for children and young people that offers a different route for children who may be coerced into criminality through gangs and the recruitment into organised crime.

“We need to ensure that staff and officers at Gwent Police are trained to engage with children in the language and method they understand.

“We will collaborate with our partner agencies to ensure that information is shared and that support is provided when required.

“When young people are detained in custody, we must always consider their vulnerabilities and welfare.

“Too often young people are exploited and coerced in to the criminal justice system and their voices are not heard. This is why the development of the diversion scheme for children and young people is essential.

“Moving forward, we will develop and review regularly our ‘child-cntred practice’ strategy to make sure that we will do the very best for children and particularly our most vulnerable.”