COVID may have reduced reported youth offending rates across Dorset – with officials now expecting to see a rise in 2022-23.

Figures for the whole county show a reduction in first-time offenders entering the justice system, although manager for the Dorset combined youth justice service, David Webb has admitted that the Covid effect makes it difficult to assess exactly what has been happening as some national figures have not been collated during the period.

The statistics in Dorset show a drop in offending rates for boys 14-15, but a rise in younger boys entering the justice system at 11 or 12-years-old, although the numbers for the younger age group are small, four for 2020-21 and 5 for the first eight months of 21-22.

Mr Webb told a children’s services overview and scrutiny committee on Tuesday evening that, in broad terms, the county followed the national trend with 81per cent of offenders being boys; 19 per cent girls.

But he said the county did not follow the national trend in having a higher percentage from ethically diverse backgrounds entering the justice system with 90 per cent of local offenders listed as ‘white.’

It also bucks the national trend with the percentage of first-time entrants to the young justice system being higher locally than the national or regional rate.

Mr Webb said that although locally collected figures to December 2020 showed a drop in children entering the justice system the national figures suggested there was an increase.

His report to the committee said that there had been a reduction from 107 BCP children entering the justice system in 2019/20 to 76 first-time entrants in 2020/21. He said the reduction has been maintained in the current year, with a projected year-end figure of 74 first-time entrants in 2021/22.

He told councillors that it was his informed guess that the initial lockdown had reduced offending behaviour although he expected that with other problems caused by Covid, including mental health, school attendance rates and exploitation, there was likely to be an increase in offending rates in 2022-23.