THE number of children arrested by Sussex Police has dropped by 62 per cent in the last six years, according to figures.

The force arrested 2,185 arrests children aged 17 and under last year, down from 5,779 in 2010, research by the Howard League for Penal Reform charity has found.

This is just under the national average, which fell by 64 per cent from almost 250,000 in 2010 to 87,525 in 2016 in England and Wales.

All but four forces brought down their number of arrests by more than half – with fewer girls than boys being taken into custody.

The charity said this was thanks to its work with forces to keep as many youngsters as possible out of the criminal justice system.

Its campaign was launched after research suggested the more contact a child has with the system, the more entrenched they are likely to become and their chance of reoffending would be increased, causing rising rates of crime.

The charity’s chief executive Frances Crook said: “For the sixth year running we have seen a significant reduction in child arrests across the country.

“This is a tremendous achievement and we will continue to support police forces to develop their good practice and reduce the number to an absolute minimum.

“Sussex Police should be applauded for their positive approach and the Howard League is proud to have played its part in a transformation that will make our communities safer.

“By working together, we are ensuring that tens of thousands of children will have a brighter future and not be dragged into a downward spiral of crime and custody.”

The force launched Operation Stepping Stone to reduce the criminalisation of children.

Officers are asked to find alternatives, such as community resolutions, to avoid arresting young people and work with other organisations if they feel they need support to improve their behaviour.

Assistant Chief Constable Laurence Taylor said he was encouraged by the “positive” news.

But he added: “We are not complacent and want to improve on this.

“We have been working hard as an organisation to emphasise to officers that all children and young people should be treated as children first.

“Whilst sometimes it can be necessary, police custody is not the place for children to be. It is vitally important vulnerability is identified and as far as possible a full understanding of their circumstances is sought before decisions which affect their future are made.”

Other forces now make sure an inspector reviews each child arrest.

Durham Police’s Chief Constable even met each of his officers individually to urge them to try to solve problems rather than relying on arrests.

The number of children arrested by Sussex Police over the past six years are:

l 2010: 5,779

l 2011: 4,564

l 2012: 4,423

l 2013: 4,018

l 2014: 3,220

l 2015: 2,679

l 2016: 2,185.