For the first time in seven years, the juvenile crime rate has declined, according to a report released on Sunday by the National Council for the Child. At the same time, the severity of the crimes has increased, the NCC said. In 2007, the number of youth crime suspects dropped to 14,239, compared to 15,409 a year earlier. The downward trend breaks what was a steadily rising youth crime rate between 2000 and 2006. The NCC said the average age of juvenile offenders has dropped in recent years. In 2004, 152 minors under the age of 12 were questioned by police on suspicion of involvement in crimes, while in 2007 that number doubled to 300. A disproportionate amount of youth offenses are carried out by immigrants (17.4 percent) and Arabs (40%), the NCC added. The penal system appears to have taken a far harsher approach with youth offenders in recent years, keeping 1,525 minors in custody until the end of legal proceedings in 2008, compared with 193 in 1995. Twenty percent of minors tried and convicted were locked behind bars, the NCC said, identifying Beersheba and Jerusalem as cities where juveniles are most likely to jailed for crimes. Of the 212 minors who found themselves in custody in 2008, 36% were locked up for the first time in their lives, while 26% were second-time offenders. For 21%, it was their third time in custody, while 18% had chalked up four times in which they were sent to serve a custodial sentence. The NCC is holding a conference on Monday and Tuesday at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Beersheba, during which it plans to discuss these figures.