THE number of girls arrested in Dorset has fallen by 75 per cent in three years, according to figures released today.

The statistics have been released by campaign group the Howard League for Penal Reform, and the group praised Dorset Police when the figures came to light.

Dorset Police arrested 202 girls aged 17 and under in 2011, compared to 805 in 2008.

Chief executive of the league Frances Crook said: “It is encouraging to see Dorset Police are making fewer arrests of girls than they were in 2008, thanks in part to our effective campaigning.

“A significant 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.”

She added: “Our evidence shows that the police were arresting girls completely unnecessarily when they were out partying, often with the mistaken intention of protecting them.

“Now the police are handing out flip-flops and helping the girls home, a much more sensible approach.

“There are a very few girls who have welfare needs such as poverty and substance abuse, or are victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse.

“Rather than being criminalised, these girls need protection from serious harm and support to help them mature into law-abiding citizens.

“The challenge for police services now is to maintain this trend of arresting fewer children.”

She added: “Only last week the Commons Justice Committee reported that too many children were being criminalised for trivial incidents, so it is remarkable that, although only 50 girls in the whole country are considered to have committed such serious crimes to merit custody, police carried out more than 34,000 arrests during 2011.

“Reducing the number of arrests still further would release resources to deal with real crimes.”

Dorset Police is one of 14 forces across the country to record a fall of 50 per cent or more.

Superintendant Garrick Smith of Dorset Police said: “In 2008 Dorset Police piloted a restorative justice scheme for young offenders, where they were required to face up to their offending by meeting the victim, and this proved to be very successful.

“The reduction in arrests does not mean that we are not dealing with these young people and last year, together with the youth offending team, we managed more than 500 restorative justice conferences in Dorset where young offenders were held personally to account for their actions.”

He added: “We are very proud of the massive reductions we have achieved in the number of children being brought into custody.

“For some young offenders it will remain entirely appropriate to arrest them, but where we can address the offending without bringing them into custody, we will.”

The Howard League published data last year showing that the total number of child arrests across the country had fallen by a third since 2008.

The figures on female child arrests were published following an inquiry by the All Party Parliamentary Group on women in the penal system.

The inquiry found that responding to the behaviour of teenage girls too harshly can make it more likely that they will be drawn further into the justice system.

Number of girls aged 17 and under arrested by Dorset Police

2008: 805

2009: 788

2010: 758

2011: 202