childarrestThe number of children arrested by the police has fallen by a third in four years according to new figures.

Howard League for Penal Reform's survey of all 43 forces in England and Wales showed that nearly a quarter of forces had halved the number of 10-17 year-olds taken into custody from 2008-2011.

The greatest fall in the number of children arrested in England and Wales was in Dorset, where police held just over 1,000 children; about 70% fewer than in 2008.

Campaigns director at the Howard League, Andrew Neilson, believes a move away from a mandatory target system for police is the main reason for the third successive fall.

"In 2008, the first year we have data for, the target culture was coming to an end," he said.

"At that time, police services were being ranked on the number of arrests they were processing, and to a degree children were low-hanging fruit that helped the police reach their arrest targets.

"While some police services still use these targets informally, we are seeing a move back towards a discretion-led, common sense approach, and that's reflected in the figures."

These findings come on the same day that a raft of new criminal offences have come into force in England and Wales, including one against carrying knives in schools.

In almost all such cases, judges must impose a sentence of a four-month detention and training order for 16 and 17 year olds.

However, Kate Whaley, from charity Mothers against Murder & Aggression believes the new measures ignore the real problem.

"What we need to be doing is finding ways to stop young people carrying weapons in the first instance," she said.

"What is going to be done to change the offending behaviour of these people? That is what we should be looking at."

Posted 03/12/2012 by - a version of this story originally appeared on our sister