Nearly 20 children each week are locked up overnight by South Yorkshire Police, new figures reveal.
South Yorkshire Police has revealed there were 1,044 overnight detentions involving children aged 17 and under in police station cells in the county in 2011.
The year before there were 1,270 overnight detentions, figures disclosed under the Freedom of Information Act show.
Research by the Howard League for Penal Reform charity reveals today that, nationally, there were a total of 40,716 overnight detentions - an average of 112 per night.
The charity is calling for the practice of holding children overnight in police cells to be brought to an end.
It is urging police forces to work more closely with parents and children’s services to provide safe and appropriate care for boys and girls who come to their attention.
A briefing paper published by the charity calls for the presumption of bail to be strictly applied to children, as well as pushing for all officers to be trained in safeguarding and child protection.
Frances Crook, Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “Holding children as young as 10 in police cells overnight is unjustifiable.
“The vast majority are innocent of any crime, and it is a frightening and intimidating experience which does more harm than good.
“It is encouraging to see the number of detentions is falling nationwide, thanks in part to our successful campaigning.
“This is a victory for common sense, prudent use of police resources and improved community relations.
“But the number remains far too high and it is particularly worrying to see practice varies widely from police service to police service.
“What boys and girls need in most cases is simply to go home. On rare occasions, somewhere safe – not somewhere secure – should be provided by the local authority.
“Parents, not police, should be taking responsibility for their children.
“Police are to be congratulated for the significant fall in the use of police cells in recent years.
“It is extravagantly expensive to detain children at a time of austerity, particularly when almost all of them are innocent, or have just been naughty and that behaviour can be dealt with quickly and safely by parents.”
In 2010, police services across England and Wales recorded more than 45,000 overnight detentions of children aged 17 and under.