Arrests up but penalties down as police 'avoid criminalising children'
Suffolk was one of just 11 police force areas in the country to see an increase in the number of children arrested last year.
Arrests of children aged 10-17 had declined for the last decade, until the year ending March 2018, when they went up almost 5% to 722.
Cautions and sentences for drug offences went from 67 to 105, but dropped from 139 to 68 for theft.
Cambridgeshire was the only other county in the region to see an increase in arrests, which had fallen annually in Suffolk, from 1,044 in 2013/14, but rose for the first time last year, when most offences were for violence (235), criminal damage (127), drugs and motoring offences (93).
But while arrests increased, the number of cautions and sentences fell from 512 to 477 in a year.
Police said any action depended on the severity of the crime, wishes of the victim and advice of the prosecution service, but that the force also tried to avoid criminalising children where possible and appropriate.
The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) said the number of first time offenders had fallen 86% in a decade, but that children already in the system often had complex needs, and that it was working to improve rehabilitation.
Boys were almost five times as likely to break the law as girls in Suffolk, while children identifying as black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) made up 9.9% of those cautioned or sentenced – an increase from 7.4% in 2013/14.
The MoJ said it had a team working to explain and change outcomes for BAME children after David Lammy MP published a review of disproportionality in the justice system in 2017.
A spokesman said the MoJ was developing interventions aimed at reducing disproportionality, including improving BAME children’s understanding of legal advice, reviewing disproportionate sentencing outcomes, and improving parental understanding and engagement.
A Suffolk police spokesman added: “Our officers police fairly and without prejudice, and any action taken against individuals will depend on the level and severity of the crime, the wishes of the victim and the advice of the Crown Prosecution Service.
“We try to avoid criminalising children where possible and appropriate, especially for more minor offences or if it is their first offence. In these instances, other disposal options are available to us, such as a referral to the Youth Justice Service.”