THE number of youths committing crimes is going down.

Wiltshire Criminal Justice Board said that that the number of crimes involving under 18s in the county was down to just 944 last year.

In 2005, 1,088 youngsters in Wiltshire were convicted or cautioned, out of more than 47,000 10 to 17 year olds in the county.

Swindon's Youth Offending Service said the key to tackling youth crime was to keep unruly kids in check before they got into trouble.

Nationally the number of 10 to 18 year olds coming into contact with the law has risen by 27 per cent in the last six years.

Ian Langley, head of Wiltshire Youth Offending Service, said: "Local figures paint a positive picture and these are due to the service's prevention activity and that of other partners such as police neighbourhood policing teams.

"There are five strands that aim to reduce the number of children and young people involved in, or at risk of becoming involved in, offending or anti-social behaviour."

Figures released by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) yesterday showed an increase in the number of children being dealt with by the criminal justice system in Wiltshire during the past six years.

The number of youths cautioned for criminal offences has grown 12 per cent in the last six years.

The number convicted of a crime rose by three per cent since 2002.

The IPPR's James Crabtree said their figures did not necessarily mean more children were committing crimes, just that more were being targeted by the police.

"Current targets have resulted in the police concentrating on easier-to-solve low-level crimes committed by children and teenagers, often with complex problems," he said.

"This has not resulted in crime reduction but serves to criminalise young people, increases re-offending and misdirects important resources away from dealing with severe offences and crime prevention."

Wiltshire Criminal Justice Board spokeswoman Chloe Boyce explained the discrepancy between the figures.

"Their figures relate to a six-year period. Our figures show that although youth crime was increasing for the first four years of that it is now greatly improved."

Criminal justice services in Swindon work with children and young people identified as being at risk of offending to try and stop them getting into trouble in the first place.