The number of youth offenders in Lancashire entering the justice system for the first time has dropped dramatically over the past decade.
The Criminal Bar Association says that young people accused of serious crimes are “leaping at the offer” of informal resolutions for their offences.
Ministry of Justice Data shows that 204 under-18 first-time offenders were convicted in Lancashire in 2018-19.
A decade before, the figure was 1,503 – meaning a drop of 86 per cent.
It meant that, last year, 186 in every 100,000 10 to 17-year-olds entered the justice system – below the average for the North West, where 241 did.
Across the region, a similar trend has been seen – 1,601 youths entered the justice system last year, 85 per cent fewer than in 2008-09.
The Criminal Bar Association said that a major reason for the sharp fall in youth prosecutions is the increased use of police community resolution orders.
The association’s chairman, Chris Henley QC, said: “It’s unsurprising offenders arrested for serious crime leap at the offer of an informal community resolution order.
“Sadly, this is all about a lack of resources. The number of community resolution orders issued in serious cases has increased significantly as funding has fallen dramatically.
“This lets down both the current and future victims of serious crime.”
Across England and Wales, the number of juvenile first-time entrants to the criminal justice system has declined by 85 per cent over the past decade – from more than 80,000 to just 12,000.
Across all age groups, while crime has increased, the number of cases going to trial has fallen.
A National Police Chiefs’ Council spokesman said: “The fall in the number of young people entering the criminal justice system can partly be attributed to the fact that more first-time offenders for low-level crimes are being put through diversion schemes.
“We know that prosecuting young people for low-level offending can actually increase the chances of them reoffending.
“Diversion tactics, on the other hand, give the police other options, and can help young people escape a life of crime.”
A Ministry of Justice spokesman said efforts to rehabilitate low-risk young offenders in the community had caused a 70 per cent drop in the number of children in custody.
He added: “But this Government is serious about sending people to prison who need to be there to punish them for their actions and protect the public.
“That is why we are urgently taking action to improve and modernise our Victorian jails – spending up to £2.5bn to create 10,000 new prison places and investing £100m to boost security and safety.”