A police force hauled a child through the courts at a cost of £4,000 for stealing half a sausage roll it has emerged.
It has been accused of wasting “millions” in taxpayers’ money and unnecessarily criminalising young people purely to meet its detection targets.
Other “crimes” deemed worthy of arrest included stealing a 1p nail and an 8p marble.
In each case the youngsters were given three month referral orders and ended up with criminal records.
Now probation officers have complained they are being swamped so badly with petty offences that they cannot concentrate on helping real problem youngsters.
Martin Spragg, the head of Devon’s Youth Offending Service, said only an eighth of the 1,570 10 to 17-year-olds the service had seen in the last year were “serious offenders”.
Children involved in minor shoplifting offences and “a push and shove” between friends were arrested by Devon and Cornwall police officers unable to use their discretion, he claimed.
Another youth was taken to court for criminal damage – for running through a hedge. All generated large amounts of “hugely costly” paperwork with the total cost for some cases reaching £10,000, he said.
Mr Spragg hit out: “What we are doing is criminalising all these young people unnecessarily. It is a Home Office mess linked into this target culture.
“I just think it is a silly way to deal with things. It is inefficient and slow. He said front-line policeman “cannot give informal warnings or simply find a resolution of the matter with parents and victims because if they do it does not count as a detection.”
“If a youth steals a Mars bar, for instance, instead of returning it to the shopkeeper, arranging an apology and speaking with the parents the officer is forced to make an arrest,” he went on.
“He then has to interview, fingerprint and take a DNA sample, arrange solicitors and parents to attend for an interview and complete masses of paperwork.”
This is hugely costly and takes the officer off the streets for hours.
“If the police are called to a push and shove between school friends they are likely to be arrested and given a reprimand for common assault.”
Mr Spragg said the force had a policy of taking juveniles to court for a third offence, no matter how small.
Even if cases were not taken to court they were referred to the Youth Offending Team which was required to hold a series of meetings with the child and family.
He said those convicted were left with criminal records which could affect them in later life.
“I am not saying ignore it but don’t leave children with the stigma that will cause damage to them in the years ahead,” he said.
“If a child is granny bashing then I am favour of the courts taking punitive action, I am not saying ignore bad behaviour or advocating going soft on crime.
“We are wasting taxpayers’ money – it is costing millions of pounds nationwide.”
Full story from the Telegraph