THE NUMBER of Swindon youngsters entering the criminal justice system has plunged over the past decade.

Officials claim it’s a result of more out-of-court disposals like youth cautions. But one senior Wiltshire magistrate also put it down to a more abstemious generation spending more time playing video games.

Government figures show there were 77 first-time offenders aged under-18 convicted in Swindon last year.

A decade ago that figure was 385, meaning an 80 per cent drop. The Swindon numbers were higher than the regional average, with the equivalent of 373 in every 100,000 Swindon youngsters aged 10 to 17 entering the criminal justice system compared to an average of 229 across the south west.

Experienced county JP Simon Wolfensohn, chairman of the Wiltshire Magistrates’ Association, suggested the fall in convictions could be a result of successful early intervention schemes aimed at cutting youth offending – as well as a more abstemious generation drinking less and spending more time online.

“We are seeing fewer minor offences being prosecuted overall, I think. Nonetheless, we still see some not very serious offences, which could be better dealt with by other means,” he added.

Nationally, more youngsters are being offered cautions or other kinds of out-of-court disposals.

Chris Henley QC, chairman of barristers’ group the Criminal Bar Association, said crime victims were being let down: “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.”

But a National Police Chiefs’ Council spokesman defended the out-of-court disposals: “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.”