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Child criminals in Dorset at highest level in 6 years

Child Eye

Published at 9:00am 14th April 2019. (Updated at 9:54am 14th April 2019)

The number of child criminals in Dorset entering the justice system is at its highest level for six years.

This is despite longer-term trends showing far fewer children are being prosecuted now, compared with a decade ago.

The latest Ministry of Justice figures show 127 children were convicted or cautioned for the first time in the 12 months to September 2018.

That's a 44% rise on the previous year, and the highest number since 2012 when 129 youngsters were cautioned or convicted.

The data does not include repeat offenders.

Across England and Wales, the number of children entering the criminal justice has reduced dramatically over the last 10 years, by 85%.

In Dorset, the number being convicted or cautioned has dropped by 73%, from 467 offenders in 2008.

Just for Kids Law, a charity which helps ensure children's legal rights are respected, said that despite the decrease, it still has concerns around youngsters entering the criminal justice system.

Chief executive Enver Solomon said: "These figures show the benefits to society which come when police and youth offending teams focus on diverting children from the criminal justice system, rather than punitive methods that do little other than funnel them into a life of crime.

"We are concerned, however, that progress could be jeopardised by knee jerk policies such as the new knife crime prevention orders, which are likely to drag a large number of children into the criminal justice system."

Mr Solomon said there were still "many outstanding issues", such as holding children in police cells for extended periods of time and poor quality legal representation.

"Children have different needs and entitlements to adults, but too few lawyers are specialists in how to work with them, leading to missed opportunities to divert young people from the justice system," he added.

The figures also show that Dorset has a higher rate of youth offenders than the South West does on average.

There are 351 children cautioned or convicted per 100,000 youngsters in the area, compared with 252 per 100,000 across the region.

The child criminal capital of the South West is Swindon, with 412 youth offenders per 100,000. The area with the highest rate in England and Wales is Newcastle, with 573 per 100,000 under 18s.

Nationwide there were 13,000 first-time youth offenders during the time period.

They were outnumbered by re-offenders, more than 17,000 in total, who made up 57% of the child criminals.

There were more than five times as many boys as girls who were cautioned or convicted.

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