How should we tackle violent crime?

Work with Offenders covers a new report which says we should listen to the community to find solutions to the violence affecting young people

A new report from the Innovation Unit says that violent crime in Greater Manchester could be tackled by a 10-point programme developed with young people, parents, teachers and community leaders who live and work in the areas of the city which are blighted by organised crime, serious violence and the sale of weapons and drugs.

Interviews with the local communities explored six areas which contribute to violent crime, and led to the prevention and intervention programme:

Social Media

The report found that social media is not a direct cause of crime, but an amplification and exacerbation of toxic masculinity, peer pressure and impetus to react immediately. Fights are organised, drugs and weapons are sold online, and there’s a growing gig economy of individuals moving between gangs, while drill music encourages gang vs gang violence.

Solutions include social media companies working with young people on an anti-violence education programme for Year 6 pupils and parents, and a demand on social media companies to visibly remove content and encourage reporting to the police.

Violence is normalised in homes, schools and communities

The report’s authors found that chaotic family lives, violence and conflict at home, school and in the community, and increasing school exclusions are contributing to the sense that violence is normal behaviour. Peer pressure peaks at 13 to 14, with children as young as 10 involved in crime

Solutions for young people include developing single-sex PSHE resources for Year 8 on managing anger/conflict; understanding peer pressure and developing identities which don’t rely on violence, while solutions for the community include introducing community guardians in high risk areas who link police, landlords and community groups, and alert them to potential risks

Improving relationships between police and communities

Many people consulted for the report highlighted the impact of much reduced neighbourhood policing in terms of loss of mutual trust, respect and positive relationships especially for young people, while reduced police resources means low level and violent crimes go unresolved. Teachers are reluctant to report crimes with just 60% of weapon possessions passed to police.

Solutions include developing multi-agency violent crime reduction teams in high risk areas, reviewing youth outreach to better meet the needs of young people, improving neighbourhood policing with officers linked to schools, and considering non-custodial sentences as a deterrent.

Fear and vulnerability driving increased carrying of weapons

The report exposed a big difference in perceptions between young people and those who teach them. Young people choose ‘10 years or life’, opting to risk a jail term rather than losing their life. Yet perceptions of numbers who carry weapons is far fewer than the reality. While teachers say violence has increased (21%); physical attacks on them have increased (23%); and verbal attacks have increased (26%), young people say teachers don’t listen to them with 52% fixed term and 20% permanent exclusions.

Solutions include pastoral support teams for Years 5 to 9 to offer continuity as they move from primary to secondary school; keep parents and teachers informed.

‘Toxic Masculinity’ and pressure to conform

The notion of “toxic masculinity” is explored in this report. There is growing interest in an evidence base about the cultural expectations of young men where retaliation is strength, emotions are feminine, and social media presents a highly edited version of themselves, leading younger boys to use violence and crime to enhance their image and status. Girls are expected to carry weapons on behalf of boys and are often victims of violence.

Solutions include ‘opportunity to change’ intervention on conflict management, emotional awareness, with mentoring, while a public awareness campaign using well-known role models should explain the human consequences of violent crime.

The need for safe places and strong relationships

It is interesting that all the main political parties have highlighted the damage that the cutbacks in youth work have done to local communities. The report highlights the loss of spaces for young people to hang out and build relationships in a safe environment, coupled with loss of children’s centres for parents’ peer support.

Solutions include information and peer support sessions for parents of 10 to 11 year olds and targeted support for parents of young people with multiple risk factors; opening up spaces for young people and encouraging local mentors from communities.

You can find the report here.

The Innovation Unit document is reminiscent of another recent report into youth violence produced by Community Links, an East London charity, which was published in January this year. The Community Links report is also based on in-depth community consultation and comes to a similar conclusion. In particular, it emphasises the need to change the narrative on youth crime and encourage all sectors of society to stop reinforcing the idea that young people are the problem. Community Links called for statutory and voluntary services to work more closely with local communities to promote opportunities to support potential and encourage the talent in young people, rather than always focusing on their negative behaviour.