The annual Youth Justice Statistics, released by the Ministry of Justice, reveal there were 36,677 first-time offences committed by 10- to 17-year-olds in 2011/12.
That represents a 20 per cent decrease on the 2010/11 figure of 45,910, and a 67 per cent drop on 2006/07 when there were 110,826 first-time entrants to the youth justice system.
Meanwhile, the total number of proven offences committed by young people has dropped for the sixth successive year.
In 2011/12, there were a total of 137,335 offences, compared to 176,511 in 2010/11 – a fall of 22 per cent.
But although the statistics show a number of apparent improvements, including a continuing decrease in the overall number of young people in custody, outcomes on a series of key measures are getting worse.
Young people sentenced for an offence are now more likely to end up in custody than at any time in the past seven years.
Of 59,335 young people sentenced in 2011/12, 3,925 were given an immediate custodial sentence – a custody rate of 6.61 per cent, the highest it has been since 2003/04.
Reoffending rates are also on the increase. The proportion of young people who offended in 2010/11 and went on to reoffend in 2011/12 was 35.8 per cent, a rise of 2.5 percentage points on the previous year, when it stood at 33.3 per cent.
Reoffending rates for those leaving custody also rose for the first time in four years, with 72.6 per cent reoffending within a year, compared to 69.7 per cent the previous year.
The percentage of young people leaving custody in Wales and moving to suitable accommodation has meanwhile dropped from 88 to 82 per cent. Figures for England were not provided.
The statistics also confirm that three children died in prison during 2011/12 and 20 children died while being supervised by youth offending teams (YOTs) in the community – two of whom were murdered.
The figures highlight the continued pressure on YOTs in terms of budgets and staffing levels. Total YOT funding in 2011/12 came to £329.8m, down 11.6 per cent from £372.9m in 2010/11.
The impact of funding cuts on staffing levels has been stark, with the statistics showing that since 2008, the number of managers, practitioners and administrative staff in YOTs has more than halved.
On 30 June 2011, there were 8,567 staff across all YOTs in England and Wales, compared to 17,283 in June 2008, a fall of 50.4 per cent.
Frances Done, chair of the Youth Justice Board, said there had been “continued progress” in the youth justice system during 2011/12.
“The number of young people in the youth justice system has continued to reduce during that period and reductions have been seen in the number entering the system for the first time, as well as reductions in those receiving disposals in and out of court, including those receiving custodial sentences,” she said.
“Since 2008/09, there are 54 per cent fewer young people coming into the youth justice system, 32 per cent fewer young people (under 18) in custody and 14 per cent fewer reoffences by young people.
“However, the reoffending rate for young people is still high, especially for those leaving custody, and we are focused on working with youth offending teams and other key partners to support young people to turn away from crime and make the rehabilitation revolution a reality.”