A prison charity has condemned Sussex Police for locking up children as young as ten.
The Howard League described the detention of thousands of children in police cells in Sussex over the past three years as doing “more harm than good”.
Figures obtained by The Argus show that more than 8,500 children aged between ten and 15 have been held by Sussex Police since 2009, including more than 40 ten-year-olds.
Police said that an increase in the use of community resolutions had reduced the number of children detained in police cells. But in the ten months to the end of October this year, 1,602 children aged 15 or younger were detained by Sussex Police, compared to 2,973 for the whole of 2009.
Offenders were held on a wide range of charges not normally associated with young offenders including blackmail, money laundering and child neglect.
A total of 33 teenagers were also arrested for driving offences while almost 100 children were arrested on suspicion of rape.
Frances Crook, the chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “Holding children as young as ten in police cells for up to 24 hours is not only deeply concerning, it is unjustifiable.
"The vast majority of children who are locked up are innocent of any crime, and it is a frightening experience which does more harm than good.
“What boys and girls need is somewhere safe, not somewhere secure, and more must be done to stem the flow of children into the criminal justice system.”
The charity said it is campaigning to raise the age of criminal responsibility to 14 in line with other European countries.
A Sussex Police spokesman said: “The Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE) determines how and when we arrest and detain anyone suspected of a criminal offence.
“This detention can be to prevent further offending or harm to other people or property and can be for the protection of the arrested person themself.
“A custody sergeant will decide if detention is necessary and any extension of detention is subject to an inspector’s review.”
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