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England & Wales: New report on tackling gang membership

23rd June 2010

A new report, published today, by the three independent inspectorates for prisons, probation and police, has revealed a "patchy and, at times, counterproductive" approach to tackling gang membership among children.

The independent thematic review was carried out under a service level agreement between the Prisons Inspectorate and the Youth Justice Board (YJB), and was undertaken jointly by the inspectorates of prison, probation and police. It examined how in practice the three inspected agencies – police, youth offending teams and young offender institutions – were dealing with and understanding gangs and gang-related crime.

Responses from all three inspected services were patchy and at times counter-productive:

  • The police service, in general, had a relatively well-developed understanding of gang activity and its contours. However, policies tended to focus on enforcement – ‘catch and convict’. This work was not in general located within an overall safeguarding agenda, recognising that young people who are a risk to others are also at considerable risk themselves.
  • Youth offending teams (YOTs) varied considerably in their approach, with some examples of good practice, but they too tended to focus on criminal justice and enforcement arrangements, rather than prevention and rehabilitation.
  • Prisons often had the least well-developed approach. One young offender institution refused to identify gang affiliation in the belief that it did not exist. Others, which were well aware of the problem, dealt with it solely as a security issue within the prison, developing mechanisms to ‘keep apart’ known gangs. This is clearly an important and difficult task within a closed environment. However, this approach risked reinforcing and even extending gang identity, and replicating the ‘postcode boundaries’ characteristic of gangs in the community.

Good initiatives and some good practice examples are listed in the report; the report also includes the views of young people on gang membership, seen as a source of protection but also of fear.

The report concludes that there is no clear integrated joint national strategy to support criminal justice and community agencies in tackling the causes as well as the effects of gang activity. This has led to agencies missing significant opportunities in terms of prevention or early intervention.

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