«Tara Young, Wendy Fitzgibbon and Daniel Silverstone London Metropolitan University CONTENTS ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS EXECUTIVE SUMMARY 1. INTRODUCTION 1.1 ...»
‘One of the things, and certainly my personal view, from a lot of the data and the research that I’ve seen, one of the biggest single factors are young people who have had disrupted education. You know – you look at the statistics of young people who have spoken about their involvement and dig into their background, and that is the biggest common factor. Same as it is in the prison population. You know, you look at the prison population and it’s over 70% of them have had disrupted education.’ (Third-sector practitioner 3, female) They also pointed to the dangers that arise when children lack parental guidance and supervision outside their home situation.
‘But lives are so busy nowadays that parents don’t have the time to monitor their kids from morning till evening … then you start talking about, being excluded. Now what do you do then? Do you stop work and look after your kid? You’re – yes, it’s madness, isn’t it? And there’s so many exclusions at the moment. What do you do when your child’s excluded? You can’t stop work. So you’ve got a child who’s free and wild on the street. So that’s – the supervision goes as far as that, when a child’s excluded, what do the parents do? Do they explain to their boss, “Oh by the way my child’s excluded, so I’m gonna take two weeks off” or a month off, or six months in some cases.’ (Third-sector practitioner, male)
6.3 Family, criminality and victimisation6.3.1 Intergenerational gang membership
When asked whether gang membership and criminality were facilitated by parents or other siblings/extended family members, all the practitioners interviewed felt that only a minority of families actively sought to recruit their children in this way. However, there was general agreement that between 10% and 20% of families with gang members had a history of criminal activity or custody and that this did seem to present a role model to the children growing up within those families.
An even smaller percentage, between 5% and 10%, were identified by the majority of practitioners interviewed as actively recruiting their children into the family gang which was sustained by organised criminal activity. This was of critical significance in some families with a ‘long’ history of criminality and imprisonment.
‘Those young people who – where that’s the situation, it’s nigh impossible to work with them. Very difficult to get them out, because they’ve got that family loyalty ingrained in their – you know, in their DNA really. And so we’d be looking at sort of their peers, who are possibly more compliant, with a view to doing some work with them, but I think – I think those members who – who are second generation are – are, you know, are almost beyond redemption in terms of how you get them out of that.’ (Local authority manager, male) In these cases it was very difficult for practitioners to envisage that these children could be facilitated or encouraged to leave a strong familial gang organisation. However, it should be noted that this was very much the minority of the gang members discussed by practitioners and was seen as atypical.
6.3.2 Families and victimisation
Agencies were much more concerned about the families being victims targeted either directly by rival gangs or by gang members who were angry that their children had attempted to extricate themselves from gang membership. Although a few families would appear to be secure that their child’s involvement would not threaten their home life, practitioners felt that the vast majority were fearful for their child and their other children, and had experienced threats or violence spilling over into their family’s home environment.
Intimidation and revenge against previous gang members who had crossed boundaries or challenged dominant power structures seem to be a very real and dangerous consequence of children being in gangs for these families. This would appear to support some of the gang members interviewed: although many prided themselves that they could keep their two worlds separate, in reality practitioners felt this was unrealistic and families often were victimised and intimated.
‘When a kid comes home and the family we visited the other day, the daughter came back after the boy was stabbed and she was about thirteen, and she broke down in tears because she didn’t know her brother had been stabbed, but she was on the estate half-an-hour earlier and kids – there was a group of kids and they were talking about her and talking about her brother and they were giving her the evil eye and really got upset and she came in, and she’d found out subsequently that they were talking about her brother who’d been stabbed. And it’s about the support that you provide for those kids … But again there’s issues of retaliation, because these kids think “Well I know who’s done it and he’s my brother, he’s my blood,” and we have problems of kids taking it, you know, to extreme circumstances because they want to get revenge.’ (Police officer, male) Although often downplayed by the gang members themselves, practitioners believed that families did experience high levels of victimization, and threats towards family members/home environments were reported to practitioners during their interventions.
Practitioners referred to instances where pressure and direct threats to siblings and cousins were used as a method of controlling or intimidating the actual gang member.
6.4 Leaving the gang: familial influence One of the areas in which it was particularly hard for practitioners to demonstrate any signs of success was facilitating gang exit within the family. Often gang membership was interrupted by conviction and a period in custody (Barry, 2010). As interviews with gang members indicated, the person had to mature, find new purpose in life or reach the end of the line with their involvement before they left their ‘on road’ lifestyle. Practitioners struggled to measure their impact on supporting families to enable their relatives/dependents to successfully exit their gang involvement.
One of the challenges practitioners faced acutely was how to enable the gang member on release from custody to resist being drawn back into gang membership. Families often tried to help their children to leave by moving away from the area or encouraging new forms of behaviour, such as employment, but this seemed to be extremely problematic.
‘We’ve got someone that we tried to get on Pathways recently, who came up at a multiagency we’ve called Operation … it meets fortnightly and we talk about all the most recent gun offences, gang offences, knife offences, and this person came up and we tried to get him involved in Pathways and the mum was all for it, she used to work for the Youth Offending Team … she was brilliant, she really wanted him to be part of Pathways. He didn’t want to know, he was doing a lot of drug dealing on … Market, and mostly robbery as well. But he didn’t want to know. He went missing recently, the police only just recently found him a week ago, and the mum was in a right state, she was devastated, she’s like, “Oh, I just want to help him,” but – so you can’t always say it’s always the parents’ fault, to be honest with you.’ (Local council practitioner, female) Some families tried to enable their children to leave gangs before conviction for offences or imprisonment occurred. However, this was again noted as extremely difficult even within families which had two parents employed and a number of choices available economically.
Practitioners often talked pessimistically with regard to gang exit where children had been active within gangs for a number of years. This was because of the hold over the member by the gang both emotionally and economically. This sometimes followed them even when they tried to move from the area or to change their lives by gaining employment or education.
However, sometimes success did occur if the young person was able to recognise the consequences of their gang membership or their targeting by police. It was often when they matured, in terms of having their own families, or felt that they were now too old to participate in childish gang activities that they changed their delinquent behaviour. This is supported by other research into when teenagers or young adults are unable to leave gangs (Hagedorn, 1998).
‘But maybe as they – they get a bit older, as one told me today who – he – he slipped out, “Yeah, but, you know, because I’m the gang – the people I mix with,” and he just changed it – and he’s getting older, I mean, you know, he’s in his mid – coming up to his mid-twenties now, and it’s like, “Oh, you know, this is just nonsense, I’ve got to do something else.” So it’s kind of a realisation (for) that, it’s just the same old, same old, and it’s not really going anywhere. And, so that’s the kind of intervention from you as an officer is reinforcing that, “Where is that leading you?” You know, it’s a road to nowhere at the end of the day.’ (Probation officer, male) This theme is also consistent with much of the literature on desistance from crime which argues that, once young people have some social capital in terms of gainful employment, family connections or their own accommodation, they are able to desist from engaging in further delinquent behaviour (Burnett, 2004; Farrall, 2004; McNeill, 2006).
However, practitioners noted this is very difficult when employment and educational opportunities are extremely rare. This combines with the research that indicates that in deprived areas the ability to reconnect with the legal economy and lose the stigma that gang membership imposes is even less likely (Bourgois, 1995).
6.5 Professional intervention to facilitate gang exit Although clearly not exhaustive, the practitioner interviews provide a useful insight into the professional interventions being tried by different agencies to facilitate gang exit.
As mentioned previously, the majority of statutory agencies were/are predominantly concerned with monitoring and reducing risk in terms of risk of harm and risk of reoffending.
‘We have something called a Merlin system, which is part of the CAP, the Common Assessment Programme, and anyone can refer: if any young person comes to notice, a Merlin report goes on, so if your two children are throwing stones at cars or out late at night and it doesn’t have to be a criminal offence, if they come to the notice of the police, so if you have a domestic argument with your husband, that domestic report will be taken but a Merlin would be created for your two children if they’re under 18, just so we are aware that they’ve come to our notice. And if it’s for anything to do with knives, gangs, serious youth violence, then my team will investigate it, so you would have a home visit, we would sit down with you and your son and say, you know, what is the issue, why has he been seen with a knife, with this group of people who we know are known gang members.’ (Police officer, male) However, this was not their only aim and many of them attempted to work on a multiagency level in order to share intelligence to minimise the chances of reoffending or victimisation within the gang situation. This was undertaken in various ways by agencies, either via formal systems as above or by more informal networks involving information sharing within the community. This supports previous practice research in regard to liaising and building up a rapport with communities with the aim of supporting families and their children to access facilities locally to prevent reoffending and enable reintegration (Fitzgibbon, 2011).
All the practitioners interviewed, whether statutory or non-statutory public/third sector, were unanimous in believing that the best way to facilitate gang exit was to intervene early with preventative measures targeted at known groups within deprived areas and particularly younger siblings of gang members.