Police under fire for locking kids overnight in cells

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Thousands of innocent children are being “unjustifiably” locked up in police cells overnight, says a penal reform charity.

Research by the Howard League for Penal Reform shows that there were 3,729 overnight detentions of children aged 17 or under, or 72 a week, by West Yorkshire police during 2011.

The charity says the number of detentions is falling but that the practice of detaining children overnight to should be stopped altogether.

A total of 3,729 children were detained overnight in West Yorkshire in 2011, compared to 4,469 in 2010

Frances Crook, Chief Executive of the Howard League, 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.

“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. 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 by parents.”

Chief Insp Phil Wiggins of West Yorkshire Police said the force aimed to deal with children outside of custody wherever possible.

He said: “However, there are occasions when an arrest is necessary for the safety of the suspect and to ensure proper procedures are followed.

“We recognise any arrest of a person of a young age can have a negative impact on their well being but through working with appropriate adults and external partners we aim to mitigate this and deal with a detention as quickly as possible.”