Too many girls are being held in “inappropriate” police custody after committing minor crimes, rather then being looked after by their council, an inquiry has found.
A briefing, published today, following the inquiry by the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on women in the penal system, revealed a big drop in violent crime committed by teenage girls and found the majority of young women in the penal system have committed only minor offences.
Yet many are still being held in police custody, the APPG found, warning police services should not be expected to act as welfare services for girls.
It is the local authority, not the police, who should provide a temporary place of safety for girls until their parents can be contacted, the briefing stated.
“If parents abdicate their responsibilities then the council has obligations under the Children Act 1989 to protect a child in need until the issue can be resolved,” it stated.
The APPG condemned the use of “unsafe and unsuitable” police custody suites for teenage girls and called for a return to “restorative policing” where officers can exercise their professional discretion and resolve matters informally and immediately.
At least 53,000 children under the age of 16 were held overnight in police cells in 2008 and 2009, including 13,000 children aged between nine and 13.
In one case a 16-year-old girl was arrested and detained overnight for stealing a can of lager and a girl of 13 was held in custody over night for stealing a make-up bag.
Chair of the APPG, Baroness Jean Corston, said it was “illogical to think we can treat all of our social problems and small misdemeanours with the blunt end of the law”.
As part of a year-long inquiry into girls and crime, the APPG found girls were not becoming more violent, contrary to public perception.
The number of girls arrested each year has been falling since 2008, the inquiry found, while the number of violent offences committed by girls has fallen by 29% in recent years.
The APPG and the Howard League for Penal Reform are calling for the minimum age of criminal responsibility to be raised to 14.
Frances Crook, chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, told Community Care: “We deny children the responsibility to buy cigarettes until they are 18, they may not decide to leave school until they are 16 and they can’t vote until 18.
“Yet, we consider that as soon as they have their 10th birthday a child can not only tell that something is wrong, but can make a sophisticated moral judgement about what is worse than something else. In addition, we expect them to know what the consequences of their action will be.”
All young offenders should be given looked-after status