CHILDREN have committed hundreds of drug-related offenses in Dorset in less than a decade, figures show.
Thousands of child drug offenses are recorded by police every year in England and Wales – but critics of drug prohibition warn that giving a youngster a criminal record can have a negative impact on his future.
Department of Justice figures show 83 warnings or convictions were given to young people in Dorset for drug-related crimes in 2020-21, with penalties among 583 recorded since records began in 2013-14.
Since then, under-18s in England and Wales have been cautioned or convicted of drugs nearly 48,000 times – sentences that could have lifelong consequences, according to campaigners calling for reform.
Nationally, 4,000 drug offenses were committed by children in the first year of the coronavirus pandemic, despite nationwide shutdowns and other measures contributing to a significant drop in overall crime rates .
This meant that 10.3% of all childhood offenses in England and Wales were drug-related in 2020-21 – the highest proportion on record, despite a 58% drop in crime linked to young people since 2013-14.
In the area covered by the Dorset Police and Crime Commissioner, drug-related crimes accounted for 16 per cent of the total of 504 proven offenses that resulted in a conviction or caution for children last year.
A Dorset Police spokesperson said: ‘Dorset Police work tirelessly to prevent children from taking drugs. We also ensure that children are protected and aware of the harm drugs can cause.
“The number of children given warnings or convictions for drug-related offenses in Dorset has remained relatively low over the years, but we will continue our efforts to reduce this activity.
“It should be noted that a child is anyone under the age of 18 and there is considerable variation between a young child and an adolescent.
“To prevent children from committing drug-related crimes, our Safer Schools and Communities team works closely with county schools to support teachers and educate children and youth about drugs and the law, as well as to how drug-related activities may be linked to child exploitation and county boundaries.
“The team also provides a high-visibility presence in schools for children if they need to speak to a member of the police.
“The youth justice team will consider all crimes that require an out-of-court disposition order for the young person, which includes not only cautions and conditional cautions, but also dispositions such as diversion for young people and restorative provisions for young people.
“All decisions on the extrajudicial disposal of young people are taken after consultation with the Youth Justice Service and Early Aid. If a child or adolescent receives a disposal, they will be referred to a drug outreach service, who will contact the affected child or adolescent separately.
“Drug and law education is also given to all young people who receive an out-of-court youth disposition.
“We also build and maintain an intelligence picture of children who are involved, or suspected of being involved, in drugs and county line-related activities.
“Any child identified will be referred internally for continued engagement and risk management with our partner agencies. We will ensure that any risk surrounding a child is appropriately reported so that all relevant staff are aware and can help work with that child to protect them.
“We will continue to engage with children and educate them about the dangers of drug use and the associated offenses that can be linked to it.”
A government spokesman said it was combining tough enforcement with early intervention programs and investing £200m in its youth endowment fund to steer children away from crime.
It builds an evidence base to better understand how to prevent children from using drugs, but does not intend to decriminalize drug possession, saying it would not eliminate crime or solve associated harms to drug addiction.
A 2018 NHS report found that a quarter of 11 to 15 year olds surveyed in England that year said they had used drugs, including 38% of 15 year olds.
And separate figures show concerns about a child’s drug abuse were a factor in 27,000 assessments of children in need across England in 2020-21.