THOUSANDS less of the region’s children are being arrested and sucked into a life of crime than they were in 2008, figures have revealed.

North police forces saw a dramatic reduction in the number of under 18-year-olds arrested between 2008 and 2013 - down an average of 68 per cent.

Police chiefs credit the turnaround to a series of measures including in-house changes and work with other agencies to encourage young people to choose positive pastimes over criminal behaviour.

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Durham Police arrested 4,594 children in 2008 but by 2013 the number was down 69 per cent to 1,445.

Chief Inspector Steve Ball, the force’s operations manager for custody and criminal justice reform, said: “Durham Constabulary is determined to drive down the overall arrest rates and criminalisation of young people and to focus instead upon intervention and positive lifestyles.”

Its officers are obliged to look for alternatives to custody for vulnerable groups such as children and all arrests are screened for necessity.

In the same five year period, the number of children arrested in Cleveland fell by 62 per cent from 4,882 to 1,862, North Yorkshire went down 75 per cent from 6,240 to 1,556 and there were 64 per less in Northumbria from 16,460 to 5,990.

Detective Chief Superintendent Simon Mason, head of crime at North Yorkshire Police, said: “Sadly, there are occasions when we have to arrest a person under the age 18, be that for their own safety or because they are suspected of committing a significant criminal offence against others.”

He said the force and partners within the criminal justice system work with young people and their families to try and quickly divert them away from a life of crime to become responsible members of society.

Acting Assistant Chief Constable Ciaron Irvine, of Cleveland Police, said the figures coincide with a fall in crime and arrests overall and teaming up with education and social care professionals has helped.

He said restorative justice can be used to deal with first time offenders for certain offences giving young people a chance to right their wrong, often involving an apology to the victim and a commitment to change behaviour.

The regional figures are in line with national statistics released by The Howard League for Penal Reform which claims they follow a successful campaign by the charity.

But it insists that child arrests remain too common nationwide, with a youngster arrested every four minutes in England and Wales during 2013.

Chief executive Frances Crook said: “A sharp fall in the number of children entering the justice system is good news for everyone striving to reduce crime and saves the taxpayer untold millions.

“The challenge for police now is to maintain this trend.

“At a time of austerity, further reducing the number of children arrested would free up more officer time to deal with serious crimes.”