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A Charity Urges North Yorkshire Police To Stop Holding Children Overnight In Cells


6:01am 15th October 2013
(Updated 8:49am 15th October 2013)

It comes as figures obtained by the Howard League for Penal Reform reveal that eleven children are locked up overnight in North Yorkshire Police cells each week.

New research by the charity shows that there were 579 overnight detentions of children aged 17 and under in police stations across the county during 2011.

The total across England and Wales was 40,716 – which equates to an average of 112 detentions per night.

However they say the true number is likely to be far higher as some of the largest police services in the country were unable to provide figures.

The data shows that the number of overnight detentions is falling nationwide – a success for the Howard League’s campaign to reduce the number of children getting caught up in the criminal justice system.

But now the charity is calling for the practice of holding children overnight in police cells to be brought to an end altogether.

The Howard League is urging police to work more closely with parents and children’s services to provide safe and appropriate care for boys and girls who come to their attention.

A briefing paper published by the charity also calls for the presumption of bail to be strictly applied to children, as well as pushing for all police to be trained in safeguarding and child protection.

Frances Crook, Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said:

“Holding children as young as ten in police cells overnight is unjustifiable. The vast majority of children who are locked up are innocent of any crime, and it is a frightening and intimidating experience which does more harm than good.

“It is encouraging to see that the number of detentions is falling nationwide, thanks in part to our successful campaigning. This is a victory for common sense, prudent use of police resources and improved community relations.

“But the number remains far too high and it is particularly worrying to see that practice varies widely from police service to police service.

“What boys and girls need in most cases is simply to go home. On rare occasions, somewhere safe – not somewhere secure – should be provided by the local authority.

“Parents, not police, should be taking responsibility for their children."

Detective Chief Superintendent, Simon Mason, from North Yorkshire Police said:

"It is an unfortunate reality that it is sometimes necessary to detain someone under the age of 18 for their own safety or because they are suspected of committing a significant criminal offence against others.

“Depending on the time of day or night, and after careful assessment of threat and risk posed by or towards them, this could mean an overnight stay in police custody as a last resort.

“North Yorkshire Police make every effort to achieve the most positive outcome for both victims and young people in trouble.

“This approach includes actively engaging with the young person and their family and through working innovatively with partners within the criminal justice system and other agencies to maximise early intervention and prevention approaches with the aim of diverting them away from a life of crime to become responsible members of society.

“We all have a duty of care  – from parents and professionals to the wider community - to ensure our young people grow up in a nurturing and positive environment and go on to become law-abiding adults.” 

“Police are to be congratulated for the significant fall in the use of police cells in recent years. It is extravagantly expensive to detain children at a time of austerity, particularly when almost all of them are innocent, or have just been naughty and that behaviour can be dealt with quickly and safely by parents.”

Julia Mulligan, Police and Crime Commissioner for North Yorkshire said:

"Unfortunately there can be justifiable operational reasons to keep children in police cells overnight, as we have seen in West Yorkshire over the course of the last 24 hours..

“Ideally the police would deal with these children in a different way, but many are older children who are often held on serious offences.

“We need to keep communities at the forefront of our minds as well as the children's welfare, and will always try to do what is best for the public, the individual and their family."

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