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Tagged In:  Youth offending
Figures announced at a London Assembly Police and Crime Committee meeting paint a concerning picture on gang violence. There was a reported 22% rise in knife crime injury involving victims under the age of 15, with gun discharges having increased by 16%. 



In the capital alone though, there are 199 gangs with 3,800 members. These gangs are responsible for 20% of all violent crime in London, according to the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime (MOPAC). 

We frequently hear about the prevalence of gang violence, but what makes these figures stand out is that the increase comes just eight months after Mayor Boris Johnson announced tougher measures for dealing with the city’s gangs. 

Under the ‘shield’ scheme, if one gang member commits a violent offence, all members of the gang they are affiliated with can be punished. Punishments can include recall to prison, a compulsory training course, ejection from social housing, and of course, gang injunctions. 

Changes to gang injunctions


The ability to issue a gang injunction has been in place since 2011 – it is a civil tool that enables the police or a local authority to apply for an injunction against an individual to prevent gang-related violence. From 1 June 2015 though, the disposal also relates to gang-related drug dealing.

There’s a concerted effort needed on all fronts, but how can the new powers assist youth offending practitioners in encouraging young people to leave gangs? 

The new guide issued to YOTs on the gang injunction process was published in July, detailing three main amendments to legislation, including:

  • the transfer of powers from the county courts to the youth court
  • amendments to the definition of a gang to remove references to colours and names and to align more with organised crime
  • the widening of the powers to address drug dealing activity 

Overcoming issues with previous legislation 


The changes were largely in response to a Home Office review of the use of gang injunctions, which was published in January 2014. Researchers found that the disposal had considerable limitations in addressing local gang issues, with gang injunctions only applying to a subset of associated individuals. Moreover, only three areas had embraced gang injunctions (Merseyside, South Yorkshire and West Yorkshire). London, had only obtained 14 gang injunctions over a two year period. Both the time and resources required under previous legislation meant pushing gang injunctions through the county courts was incredibly difficult and time-consuming. 

So what are we to expect from the changes? Well, the intention is for youth offending officers to be able to participate in the gang injunction process as soon as possible, support 14-17 year olds to leave gangs, and ensure that the needs and imminent risks the young person is facing are taken into account. 

The need to engage a wider range of professionals


If they are going to be used more frequently though, they are only going to be impactful if youth offending officers are given the time to help individuals, with support from other professionals. After all, with gang injunctions lasting a maximum of two years, it’s a relatively short window of time to support a young person in taking the steps required to leave a gang. Moreover, they are not intended to replace the criminal law, but to complement it.

The issues gang members face are often complex, especially at a young age. This will come as no surprise to the youth offending officers we recruit across London and the rest of the UK. 

The extent of the mental health needs of gang members was revealed in a study led by researchers at the Queen Mary University of London. Out of 108 gang members who participated in the study, 85% were assessed as having an antisocial personality disorder, a third had attempted suicide, more than half were drug dependent and two thirds alcohol dependent. 

The government sees it as a positive step forward now that gang injunctions have been widened to include gang-related drug dealing. The Home Office explains, ‘Gang injunctions are appropriate for groups typically, but not exclusively, based on drug distribution, a criminal ‘business’ which is often (but not always) organised on a territorial basis’. What this means is that the disposal can be a useful tool in fragmenting a drugs-related business, which is more often than not associated with violent behaviour, making it difficult for a group to reorganise itself. 

It’ll be interesting to see whether, with the widened powers, gang injunctions will be used more frequently? We’ll have to wait for figures from the Youth Justice Board, and also for Michael Gove’s review of the youth justice system, which is expected next summer. 
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