A quarter of criminals caught by police in Norfolk last year had no previous offences, new figures show.

Ministry of Justice figures show Norfolk Constabulary dealt with 1,804 first-time offenders last year. This included 81 under-18s.

Of those, 1,185 were convicted, while the rest were only cautioned.

While repeat and prolific offenders made up the majority of those arrested, it meant one in four had never been in trouble with the law before.

READ MORE: Most Norfolk knife crime convictions first-time offenders

Tyrone Steele, deputy legal director of law reform charity Justice, said: “Entering the criminal justice system is life-changing in all the wrong ways.

“Providing and strengthening real routes away from crime – from better access to mental health and addiction services, to housing and employment – would help to reverse the worrying trend of increases in those entering the criminal justice system for the first time, including children.”

Wymondham & Attleborough Mercury: Nine per cent of first time offenders in Norfolk were sent to prisonNine per cent of first time offenders in Norfolk were sent to prison (Image: PA)

In Norfolk, 16pc of those who were convicted for the first time received a community sentence, while nine per cent were sent to prison.

Campbell Robb, chief executive of social justice charity Nacro, said: “Much of the conversation on reducing crime focuses on prison and increasing sentencing despite the evidence showing that increasing the length of a prison sentence is not an effective deterrent.

“Even a short sentence can mean people lose their jobs, homes and custody of their children, making it harder to build a crime-free life afterwards.

READ MORE: Hundreds of Norfolk criminals given out of court punishments

“And the evidence shows that short prison sentences are less effective at preventing further crime than sentences served in the community.”

Wymondham & Attleborough Mercury: Drugs offences were the most common for first time criminalsDrugs offences were the most common for first time criminals (Image: Newsquest)

First-time offenders in Norfolk convicted of an indictable offence were most often convicted for drug offences - more than a quarter of arrests. 

Separate figures also showed more than two-thirds of cautions or convictions for knife crime were handed to first-time offenders.

In contrast, the most common offence for those with a criminal past was theft, at 34 per cent.

The Home Office and the Ministry of Justice were both approached for comment.