A police boss is calling for children to be treated differently by the justice system so their lives are not blighted by being criminalised at an early age.
According to the North Wales Police and Crime Commissioner, 80 per cent of youths detained as a result of their criminal behaviour reported exposure to at least one potentially traumatic event and multiple forms of victimisation while growing up.
Mr Jones, a former police inspector, said that prosecuting them could make things even worse – making them more likely to re-offend and get into a vicious cycle of crime.
That, he said, was bad for the individuals concerned and bad for society in general.
Another problem in North Wales was that local authorities were not investing enough in accommodation for juveniles which meant they were having to stay longer than necessary in custody when they got into trouble.
The commissioner told a group of sixth form pupils at Ysgol John Bright in Llandudno that early intervention was need to stop children and young people entering the youth justice system in the first place.
He told them he had discussed the matter with Lord McNally who heads up the Youth Justice Service in England and Wales.
Mr Jones said: “It is interesting that since 2006/07 the number of children entering the youth justice system has fallen by 77 per cent and the number of children entering the system for the first time is down by 81 per cent.
“However, while the number of young offenders has reduced, the number reoffending has increased overall.
“What we do know is that 80 per cent of youths detained as a result of their criminal behaviour report exposure to at least one potentially traumatic event and multiple forms of victimisation in the early lives.
“That’s why it is so important children are dealt with differently to adults. Children make mistakes, sometimes small mistakes and sometimes life-changing ones.
“But the youth justice system must find a way to help these children overcome their difficulties and stay away from committing criminal offences.”
Mr Jones says education has to be central to an effective youth justice system if we are to provide these children with better prospects in the future.
He added: “There are clear links between education and offending. Half of the 15-17 year olds entering Youth Offenders Institutes have the numeracy and literacy levels expected of a seven to 11 year old.
“And around 40 per cent of young people in young offender institutes have not been to school since they were 14 and nine out of 10 have been excluded from school at some point.”
“Recently the Youth Justice Bureau has been introduced to deal with young people who offend for the first time.
“Before this young people who committed the first offence, say possession of a small amount of cannabis, would be issued with a youth caution by the police.
“This would mean they would have a criminal record which could severely impact a young person’s future prospects.
“Now under the Youth Justice Bureau young people are referred to their local youth justice team and are assessed. A meeting is held with the youth offending team’s manager, police officer and an independent person from the community.
“They will hear all the available evidence and a decision will be made as to what punishment will be suitable. That means it doesn’t necessarily lead to the young person concerned having a criminal record.”
Mr Jones told students there were also some issues that concerned him with the youth justice system particularly in North Wales.
He said: “Local authorities aren’t providing sufficient accommodation for juveniles resulting in them remaining in custody for longer periods than they should.
“Children in care are more likely to be criminalised than those who are not in care and children from large cities are being placed in care in North Wales in order to get them away from gangs.
“The problem is these children generally have no connection to North Wales and are likely to abscond.”
Mr Jones also outlined why he had made domestic violence, sexual abuse, modern slavery and organised crime group’s priorities in his new Police and Crime Plan.
And he explained to students how policing has changed since he retired with more crimes committed on-line than on the streets.
He said: “Can any of you here honestly say you personally know every person you interact with online, especially when it comes to social media platforms?
“Hidden crimes do not impact on the majority of us living in the region. And many victims don’t recognise themselves as being a victim.”
Students were then given the opportunity to ask Mr Jones questions and they challenged him on a range of issues from preventing terrorism and his views on the legalisation of some drugs to police funding and partnership working.
Student Georgina Gates, 18, of Llandudno, said: “I very much enjoyed hearing the Police and Crime Commissioner’s views on a range of issues and I agree with a lot of what he had to say.
“It’s refreshing to hear someone who holds public office such as he does speak about their views and I found it very interesting.”
Cai Williams, 17, of Llandudno agreed, adding: “I felt Mr Jones certainly knew his stuff and made his arguments clearly. He obviously knows what he wants and knows how he is going to achieve his aims.”