Gangs and serious youth violence: Is the Centre for Social Justice using statistics responsibly?

Violence between young people in the UK is a problem that merits serious attention

KIR profileKeir Irwin-Rogers joined The Open University as a lecturer in criminology in 2017. His current research explores the implications of national and international drug policies and practices, focusing on the links between socioeconomic inequality, consumer capitalism and young people’s involvement in drug markets. He has also conducted research and published papers on the subjects of community sentences, deterrence, young people’s use of social media, sentencing, serious violence, and education for children excluded from mainstream schooling. Keir is currently studying part-time for a BSc in Economics and Mathematics.

In the 12 months to March 2017, 61 young people aged 16-24 died as a result of knife crime in England and Wales. Violence between young people in the UK is a problem that I think merits serious attention, which is why I have been supporting the cross-party Youth Violence Commission as an academic advisor for the past two years.

During many meetings, roundtables and conferences on youth violence, I have been struck by people’s fixation on gangs whenever the issue of youth violence arises. Admittedly, I myself focused closely on ‘youth gangs’ for a number of years while I conducted research for the Dawes Unit – a specialist team within the social business, Catch22. During this time, I became increasingly concerned by what I considered to be significant limitations in the empirical evidence base on gangs.

As part of my own research, I recently contacted the Metropolitan Police Service to request their most up-to-date data on violent crime in London. In particular, I wanted to find out the proportion of violent offences that were being flagged as gang-related. Given the prominent place of gangs in government policy initiatives and the media, the results were not what I was expecting:

In 2016, just 3.8% of knife crime with injury (fatal, serious, moderate and minor) had been flagged by the MET as gang-related.

In light of the FOI statistics, I was taken aback by some of the claims made in the Centre for Social Justice’s recently published report, It Can Be Stopped: A proven blueprint to stop violence and tackle gang and related offending in London and beyond. Developing a clear agenda and narrative in its opening paragraphs, Iain Duncan Smith’s Think Tank state:

“It is estimated that gangs are responsible for as much as half of all knife crime with injury…”

I was keen to find out the reason for the discrepancy between the figures I had received from the Met and the claim being made by the CSJ in their report. The source provided to support their claim was the Metropolitan Police Service’s 62 page Business Plan 2017-18. With no page number provided by the CSJ, I proceeded to hunt through chapters on the Met’s vision, finances and performance frameworks. Upon reaching the end of this document, I had failed to find any reference to such a high proportion of knife crime being attributed to gangs.

This begged the question: why were the CSJ misdirecting their readers to a reference that did not support their claims?

I emailed the CSJ to bring this ‘mistake’ to their attention, and asked if they could point me in the direction of the real source on which they based their claims. While waiting for a response (which I have still not received), BBC Reality Check came to the rescue: according to the BBC, the CSJ based this particular claim on data from the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime (MOPAC). This indicated that in the year to March 2017 there had been 4,446 reported offences of knife crime with injury. If you remove the cases in which the victim was over 24, and then exclude incidents of domestic violence, this leaves 2,028, which represents 45% of the total.

In a stunning leap of faith, the CSJ have assumed that all of the remaining 2,028 cases were consequently gang-related. To be clear, the claim being made is that knife crime with injury offences involving victims 24 years of age and under, which are not incidents of domestic violence, can all be assumed to be gang-related.

This is utterly implausible. The proximate reasons for knife crime with injury offences involving young people are numerous and varied. Many incidents are triggered by isolated episodes of disrespect that have nothing to do with street gangs. The CSJ may well consider this reality an inconvenience to the gang narrative they attempt to conjure throughout their report (which contains a whopping 478 references to the term ‘gang’).

The claim that gangs are responsible for as much as half of all knife crime with injury not only flies in the face of the Met’s own statistics (discussed above), but of other recent publications, because it is patently absurd. Certainly, it is possible that police statistics are to some extent unreliable, based upon shaky assumptions and/or limited intelligence. If the CSJ believes this is the case, then calls for better data on gang-related violence ought to be accompanied by measured statements about the existing evidence base – not wild claims that lack serious foundation.

Finally, the maxim about ‘people who live in glass houses’ sprung to mind when I saw the CSJ demand in this very report (see recommendation 39 on p.120) that people ‘desist’ from using ‘flawed…statistics’ to fuel ‘false narratives’.

While there is some sound research and analysis in It Can Be Stopped, it will continue to be overshadowed by the CSJ’s refusal to acknowledge their error and be honest with the public about the available (and limited) evidence on the scale of gang-related violence in London and the rest of the UK.

Knife crime, we can all agree, needs to be treated seriously. But doing so requires a rigorous evidence base, accurately and faithfully represented, if we are to avoid counter-productive, knee-jerk policy responses.

Originally posted on Harm & Evidence Research Collaborative Blog on September 5, 2018

Contact

Dr Keir Irwin-Rogers, Department of Social Policy and Criminlogy at the The Open University

Email: Keir.Irwin-Rogers@open.ac.uk

Twitter: @KeirIrwinRogers

Website: http://www.open.ac.uk/people/kir8

Image: with the permission of HERC

 

The punitive shift towards the criminalisation of homelessness

In the UK, following the financial crisis of 2007 – 2008, the government response took the form of austerity measures. This has had far reaching implications, one of which being the punitive shift towards the criminalisation of vulnerable and marginalised people within society, such as those affected by homelessness.

Sharon Hartles photo

Sharon Hartles is a MA student with the Open University. She has an interest in state-corporate crimes, white-collar crimes and how these exacerbate social harms. Sharon has worked in the education sector for 10 years and believes that knowledge is paramount to challenging the crimes of the powerful which are permitted and not prohibited by black letter law.

The number of people living in poverty in the UK dramatically increased as a consequence of the governments shift towards market-based capitalism, underpinned by the social-economic reforms endorsed in the 1980s. This situation was further exacerbated by the financial global crisis of 2007 – 2008, which led to the UK government bailing out the British banks to prevent a collapse of the British banking system. Unsurprisingly, the ramification of the government’s decision to bail out the banks initially took the form of a stimulus programme which was superseded in 2010 by austerity measures. The government’s spending cuts, as part of these measures, led to a reduction in the budget deficit which has had far reaching impacts on the poorest and most vulnerable/marginalised people in the UK, including those affected by homelessness.

Since the onset of austerity in 2010, the estimated number of people sleeping rough in England has increased year on year from 2010 – 2017. Approximately, 4,751 people bedded down outside overnight on a snapshot night in autumn 2017 compared to 1,768 people on a snapshot night in autumn 2010. Rough sleeping has therefore more than doubled over these seven years. However, the reason why rough sleepers are becoming more visible in British cities and public open spaces is because support services and hostel availability are diminishing, as a direct result of the government cuts and reform to areas such as welfare.

In July 2014, the Home Office published its reform of anti-social behaviour powers to support the effective use of new powers to tackle anti-social behaviour which takes place in public and open spaces. According to the Home Office reform information, “where the actions of a selfish few ruin these spaces, through public drunkenness, aggressive begging, irresponsible dog ownership or general anti-social behaviour, these places can be lost to the communities who use them”. This powerful form of labelling stigmatises homelessness as othering, the act by which groups of individuals become represented as an outsider and not one of us. Such stigmatisation associated with homelessness limits exposure, opposition, active resistance and the publics’ outrage, enabling the government to punitively criminalise homelessness and enforce this through the criminal justice system.

In England, between 2015 – 2016, 2,365 people were prosecuted for committing vagrancy-related offences including begging. Prior to the financial crisis and the introduction of austerity measures 1,510 people were prosecuted during 2006 – 2007. Vagrancy-related offences have increased by more than 70% in one decade.  In 2014, three men were nearly prosecuted for taking discarded food (cheese, tomatoes and mushrooms) from a refuse bin. In 2015, sixty-two rough sleepers were arrested by the Sussex Police for accepting money from the public. On the other hand, no members of the public were arrested for offering and donating money to rough sleepers. The resurrection of the Dickensian vagrancy law together with the new Public Space Protection Orders which have been enacted in over 50 local authorities has resulted in a growing number of vulnerable homeless people being fined, given criminal convictions and even imprisoned for street drinking, defecating, urinating, begging and rough sleeping in public spaces.

In a bid to save money the UK government implemented a crime control approach to homelessness, concerned with promoting security and controlling crime, in favour of a social welfare approach, concerned with promoting equality, inclusion and well-being. Such a decision to shift to an enforcement-based approach was underpinned by the following political and economic factors: the financial global crisis of 2007 – 2008, coupled with the government’s choices to bail the banks out and introduce austerity measures to reduce government spending.  This causal relationship between the government’s policy to shift towards a crime control approach to homelessness resulted in the punitive shift towards the criminalisation of homelessness. In contrast, only 28 people were charged and only 5 people were convicted in the UK for their part in the financial crisis (bankers – guilty of white-collar crimes), which was considered by economists to be the worst and most significant crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s. The tax-payers in the UK have borne the financial brunt of the bankers’ crimes since 2010 and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.  However, there are others such as those affected by homelessness who are fighting for their right to exist, not to be criminalised and not to lose or have their liberty restricted.

While homelessness in the UK has increased by 134% since 2010 in line with the imposed austerity measures, homelessness in Finland has fallen by 35% over the same period of time. In contrast to the UK government ushering in its crime control approach that punitively criminalises homelessness, the Finnish government is promoting a social welfare approach and is committed to abolishing homelessness altogether. It is clear that the UK government has scapegoated homelessness to whitewash the financial deficit resulting from the bankers’ white-collar crimes (repackaging loans and playing roulette games with the stability of global markets). As is common practice through the exercise of ‘smoke and mirrors’, the government has orchestrated the punitive shift towards the criminalisation of homelessness in order to divert the publics’ gaze away from the real crimes and the real criminals who are responsible for causing the worst financial crisis in global history.

The original form of this article was posted on  sharonhartles.weebly.com and is republished here with the permission of the author.

Contact

Sharon Hartles

Email: sh28739@my.open.ac.uk

Twitter: @shartles1

 

Copyright free image: from Flickr

 

Confronting campus hate crime through forum theatre methods

Forum theatre methods enabled us to educate students about hate crimes in an interactive, safe and supportive environment

Jane Healy

Dr Jane Healy is a Lecturer in Sociology and Crime and Deviance at Bournemouth University.  Her research interests include victims of hate crime, disablist crime and human trafficking. She is co-investigator of the Hate Crime on Campus project at BU.

 

 

According to Universities UK, hate crimes on campus have a considerable impact on student well-being, academic attainment, retention, institutional reputation and recruitment (UUK, 2016). Their report encouraged a culture of ‘zero tolerance’ and the need for visible and accessible hate crime reporting mechanisms for students. To address this, my colleague James Palfreman-Kay was awarded funding by HEFCE to promote student awareness of hate crimes, including where to report them and how to signpost student support. I joined the project in Autumn 2017 and we prepared to launch our first session in the spring 2018. The timing could not have been more prescient: by early 2018 ‘Campus Hate Crime’ was attracting widespread media attention in the UK, with a spate of high profile incidents targeting BAME students, such as, for example, at Nottingham Trent, Sheffield Hallam, Warwick, and Exeter.  ​

Our approach to the project was one of local partnership, working with our student union (SUBU), Dorset Police, Dorset Police and Crime Commissioner, Dorset Race & Equality Council (DREC), Intercom Trust, CPS Wessex and Access Dorset, to identify clearly what our outcomes should be. We engaged the services of Cornwall-based theatre group Theatre Learning to create campus-based hate crime scenarios to present to the students. These scenarios, in the form of forum theatre, were based on reported cases (not from Bournemouth University) and were acted out by professionals. They reflected situations that students might be exposed to and encouraged them to consider how they might respond. Scenarios were designed to include multiple forms of hate crime strands within an intersectional framework.

Forum Theatre (Boag, 1979) is a drama-based, interactive approach to addressing public issues or working with marginalized groups (Hamel, 2015) and gender-based violence (Mitchell and Freitag, 2011). With a strong emphasis on voice and empowerment it has been successful in generating collaborative dialogue between actor and audience. Our goal was to present scenes of discrimination and hate crimes within a safe public arena, where spectators can become participants and identify, challenge and question the decision-making by ‘characters’ within each scenario.

To date, the project is ongoing and involves ‘hate crime awareness’ sessions either built into student timetabling or as independent ‘campus’ events that are promoted through the Equality and Diversity unit at BU. The project continues to engage with new students, most recently during induction week in September 2018, but partial analysis was conducted on student evaluations that were collated after the first events held earlier this (calendar) year. Our provisional findings from 90 participants found that forum theatre had much to offer students, who reported being both impressed and shocked by the method of delivery and the topics under debate.

The students, the majority level four social science undergraduates (71), were asked about their knowledge of hate crime before and after the forum theatre (FT) event, and the impact, if any, that it had on them. More than half of the participants were aged between 18 and 24 (n=76) and identified as female (n=60). Fifty four participants identified themselves as White British, with the remainder Asian, Black, White other, Mixed ethnicity or unknown.

Three main themes emerged from provisional analysis of the impact of the FT method: 1) FT was an informative process which enabled students to know more about recognizing and responding to hate crimes in a ‘safe’ way; 2) participants felt empowered to recognize and challenge hate crimes following the event; 3) participants reported an emotional impact from the sessions.

Comments included:

made me more conscious about people around me and how other people around them could impact the victims”;

eye opening, informative, thought provoking”;

will be more proactive in challenging hate crimes”;

Giving me confidence to report things that are not right” and;

made me understand that my voice has value and to always speak out and that I matter”.

Participants’ confidence to be proactive and report hate crime supports the active bystander approach that is encouraged within the FT method. Participants spoke particularly about how the event was “very powerful” and “opened my eyes on how individuals feel”. One participant asked that the sessions to be “shown to a lot more people” because of the emotional attachment they had to the characters in the scenarios.

As well as having an emotional and practical impact on participants, the sessions also provided greater knowledge and understanding about hate crimes. Participants emphasized how the use of FT was a “much better and interactive way” of learning more, “a great way of seeing certain examples played out and how we would address it” and “the examples were sensitively executed and addressed issues” that were “thought provoking”.

Many participants had expected some form of ‘interactive event’ and reported how the performances achieved this and kept audiences interested in an imaginative way. Three students gleefully wrote how they were expecting to be bored – but were then surprised to report how they gained “a lot of insightful knowledge”, “learnt a lot” and how “my expectations have been exceeded, engaging and informative”. For the majority of participants, the performative nature of FT provided relatable and effective methods of presenting, understanding and responding to hate crimes. Some reported being ‘shocked’ by the method but recognised the value of this as a method of engagement. Participants perceived that FT is a creative way of learning and particularly emphasized that interaction allowed for a “judge free zone” that gave students the confidence to challenge hate crimes in a safe and consenting environment.

Emphatically, we recommend the use of FT as an engaging, effective and safe method of hate crime awareness education.  We have made minor amendments to future events to ensure students are confident as to where they can report hate crimes and to provide more time for them to reflect and consider upon solutions to hate crimes, following feedback.  We found that those sessions that were directly embedded in teaching timetables had the greatest attendance and therefore the better outcomes and impact. We would strongly encourage ensuring a balanced representation of diversity within the FT scenarios so that all members of the audiences feel they are being represented. Interested readers are encouraged to contact James Palfreman-Kay or myself to learn more about our project.

 

Boag, A. (1979) Theatre of the Oppressed. New York: Urizen Books.

Hamel, S. (2015) Translation between academic research, community and practice: A forum theatre process. Canadian Journal of Action Research 16(3), pp.27-41.

Mitchell, K. S. & Freitag, J. L. (2011) Forum Theatre for Bystanders: A New Model for Gender Violence Prevention. Violence Against Women 17(8), pp.990-1013.

Universities UK (2016) Changing the Culture: Report of the Universities UK Taskforce examining violence against women, harassment and hate crime affecting university students. London: UUK.

 

Contact

Dr Jane Healy, Bournemouth University

Email: jhealy@bournemouth.ac.uk

Twitter: @hatecrimehealy

Images: courtesy of the author