The number of youth offenders in St Helens entering the justice system for the first time has dropped dramatically over the last decade, new figures reveal.
The Criminal Bar Association says that young people accused of serious crimes are “leaping at the offer” of informal resolutions for their offences.
Ministry of Justice Data shows that 35 under-18 first-time offenders were convicted in St Helens in 2018-19.
A decade before, the figure was 333 – meaning a drop of 89%.
It meant that, last year, 223 in every 100,000 10-17 year olds entered the justice system – slightly below the average for the North West, where 241 did.
Across the region, a similar trend has been seen – 1,601 youths entered the justice system last year, 85% fewer than in 2008-09.
The Criminal Bar Association said that a major reason for the sharp fall in youth prosecutions is the increased use of police community resolution orders.
The association’s chairman, Chris Henley QC, said: “It’s unsurprising offenders arrested for serious crime leap at the offer of an informal community resolution order.
“Sadly, this is all about a lack of resources. The number of community resolution orders issued in serious cases has increased significantly as funding has fallen dramatically.
“This lets down both the current and future victims of serious crime.”
Across England and Wales, the number of juvenile first-time entrants to the criminal justice system has declined by 85% over the last decade – from more than 80,000 to just 12,000.
Across all age groups, while crime has increased, the number of cases going to trial has fallen.
A National Police Chiefs’ Council spokesman said: “The fall in the number of young people entering the criminal justice system can partly be attributed to the fact that more first-time offenders for low-level crimes are being put through diversion schemes.
“We know that prosecuting young people for low-level offending can actually increase the chances of them reoffending.
“Diversion tactics, on the other hand, give the police other options, and can help young people escape a life of crime.”
A Ministry of Justice spokesman said efforts to rehabilitate low-risk young offenders in the community had caused a 70% drop in the number of children in custody.
He added: “But this Government is serious about sending people to prison who need to be there to punish them for their actions and protect the public.
“That is why we are urgently taking action to improve and modernise our Victorian jails – spending up to £2.5 billion to create 10,000 new prison places and investing £100 million to boost security and safety.”