The number of young people getting into trouble with the law for the first time is continuing to plummet, latest figures show.
Statistics released by the Ministry of Justice yesterday show that 28,711 under-18s entered the criminal justice system for the first time in 2012, a drop of 24 per cent on the 2011 figure of 37,787.
Meanwhile, the total number of young people sentenced for offences fell from 63,424 in 2011, to 47,515 in 2012.
First-time entrants are categorised as those receiving their first conviction, caution, reprimand, or warning. The latest fall continues the trend of recent years.
Numbers peaked in the year 2007 when there were 110,826 first-time entrants.
Tim Bateman, criminologist at the University of Bedfordshire, said the abolition of police targets for crime “detections” in 2008 contributed to the fall in first-time entrants to the system.
He explained that this has given the police greater discretion to make decisions according to the circumstances of the case, meaning fewer children and young people are criminalised unnecessarily for minor offending.
The police are issuing far fewer reprimands and final warnings – there was a 26 per cent drop in their use in the year 2012 compared with 2011. Bateman said this suggests that police and youth offending teams are using alternative, informal measures such as community resolutions and triage for relatively minor offences.
“Given the evidence that formal contact with the youth justice system can increase the chances of reoffending, this would appear to be a sensible approach,” he said.
Lucy Dawes, Youth Justice Board (YJB) lead on community, said the fall is a result of partnership working across youth offending teams, the police, and local authorities.
“The YJB’s aim is to prevent children and young people from entering the youth justice system. Strong evidence shows that once deterred young people move on to live a life free from crime.”
Figures for the year 2012 build on the latest financial-year figures, published in February, which showed that there were 36,677 first-time entrants between April 2011 and March 2012. This represented a 20 per cent decrease on the 2010/11 figure of 45,910.
The numbers of first-time entrants is one of the Youth Justice Board’s three “headline measures” for the system, alongside numbers of under-18s in custody and reoffending rates.
Like first-time entrants, the numbers of young people in custody has been dropping. In March this year, there were 1,291 under-18s in custody – less than half the figure for 2009.
However, the rate of young people reoffending within 12 months of leaving custody remains above 70 per cent.