A young artist’s perspective on criminal issues within the community

Young artist DG has created a music video for his single – Trapped – showing his perspective on gang violence, drug misuse and other issues.

DG is a young, upcoming rapper, from South Manchester, with aspirations for a career within the music industry. He produces tracks, sharing his point of view on criminal issues in the community, at Gorse Hill Studios, as a part of the Alternative Creative Education program.

Watch DG – Trapped (Official Music Video)

During lockdown, creative projects were a way to take your mind off the situation and turn a waste of time into a productive activity. I wanted to pursue my passion for music and created lyrical content relevant to many of the criminal issues within the community. The release – Trapped – uses the slang term ‘trap’ as both a reference to the street drug trade, and a metaphor for the difficulty of removing one from such a situation.

Currently studying at Gorse Hill Studios, as a part of the Alternative Creative Education program, I was able to record and produce the track along with working on my Silver Arts award (and other AQA awards,) which has led me to interview many well-known rappers within this style of music. Gorse Hill Studios has also allowed me to make use of the film equipment, therefore creating a new music video for the release.  

Watch DG – Trapped (Official Music Video)

Having recently researched the statistics on relevant issues, such as knife crime consistency, drug misuse on the streets, gang violence and other topics, I felt it was important to create a piece of content to share a voice on this which often goes unheard: a point of view on the severity of criminal issues to help create an understanding, from a first person perspective, of the impact in the community. Being a young person from such a background, the lyrics give a first-hand account and show contrast between the minds of those who are ‘trapped’ in this cycle of criminal activity, and the people who then must face the consequences. I wanted to use this blog article as a vehicle for speaking about the meaning behind some of the lyrical content, and shine light on the context behind the song.

I focused on common issues such as the process of ‘county lines’, explaining in the song that “out on the roads” is anything but fun, and how my mum is on the phone, referring to the conversation as “where’s her son?”

I thought about how the ‘streets’ have included me as a part of their team and have showed more care to me than many other groups within society. I understand that their intention may not have been in my favour, however at the time, I felt as if I had no one else. I say in the song, “all it is now is me and my team” to show that there was once some sort of association with a different group of people (my family), whereas now, it’s just myself and those part of the ‘team’.

I go on to say how “I wish life is a dream”, along with “late nights got me shotting to the fiends”. I have used the word ‘wish’ to create an image of how strongly I feel about not wanting to be a part of the activity. As the “late nights” are what is making me do these things, I have used the word ‘dream’ to refer to what I wish it was instead.

I also say, “I be on top with all of my G’s”, meaning that I have the upper hand with my G’s (my team) as opposed to before when I was on my own. I believe that this is a reason why so much of the young population feel the need to engage in this criminal activity, as it makes us feel powerful and that there is another ‘better’ way of life. I go on to say that I’m “living lavish, life so sweet”, showing the benefit of being a part of such a group, also backing up my previous statement.

Finally, the last line of the last verse concludes the meaning of the song and the main reason I made it. I state that I am “stuck in these streets’, as I cannot see myself going back to my prior lifestyle, and “that’s why they call it trap”. This is a metaphor, using the word ‘trap’ to show not just the lifestyle of one in this situation, but how it takes over your mind until you no longer want to go back.

I have written this piece to emphasize the meaning and context of the song, giving insight into the minds of those who take part in this cycle of criminal activity, for a related audience that may not have the understanding of why the young population take part in the criminal activity they do.

The track is available to stream on Spotify or Soundcloud, along with a music video on YouTube.

Contact

DG

Email: 0161.dg@gmail.com

Twitter: https://twitter.com/DG3215

YouTube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCewiFEdZoQ71cKN9SZ5Qs6A

Images: Courtesy of author

End Child Imprisonment!

How many more children must die, whilst in the alleged ‘care’ of the state, before the government abolish the inhumane incarceration of children?

Sharon Hartles photo

Sharon Hartles is a MA Postgraduate Crime and Justice student with the Open University.  She has an interest in crimes of the powerful, including state and state-corporate crime.  In an explicit attempt to move beyond criminology, she draws upon a zemiological approach to evidence the social, political and economic context in which crime is produced and interwoven into society via socio-economic inequalities.

As of the 27th June 2019, thirty five children (aged 17 or under) have died in penal custody in England and Wales since the 13th July 1990. This death rate equates to an average of one death every ten months. The social blindness and on the whole social acceptance/denial of this outdated and barbaric form of harm, by the vast majority, underpinned through the punitive desire to punish wrongdoers, must end. There has to be a better way, an alternative form of penance, which must be framed by an overarching consensus to reconcile and restore harm produced within, and by harmful societies.

On the 13th July 1990, Philip Knight became the youngest person to commit suicide in a prison in the United Kingdom. The prison where this tragedy took place was for adult, male prisoners aged 18 or over: Philip Knight was a 15 year old child. Alan Williams, Swansea West MP, (1964 – 2010) declared to the House of Commons, on the 26th July 1990, that Philip had been sent to a Swansea category B/C male prison because “nowhere else could be found for him”. About a week before Philip committed suicide by hanging himself, he had cut his wrists. As a 15 year old child it can be claimed, that Philip lacked the necessary life experiences on which to draw upon, which left him less able to manage suicidal and bleak thoughts, demonstrating why there is a clear need to abolish the imprisonment for children.

Following on from Philip Knight’s death, between 1990 and the 6th October 2002, 24 more children aged between 15 years and 17 years, suffered apparently self-inflicted deaths. With the exception of Chris Greenway, aged 16, who died in 1995 and whose death was categorised as murder/homicide, the victims include: David Dennis, aged 17 (died 30th May 2000), Philip Griffin, aged 17 (died 1st August 2000), Kevin Henson, aged 17 (died 6th September 2000), Anthony Redding, aged 16 (died 15th February 2001), Mark Dade, aged 16 (died 27th July 2001), Kevin Jacobs, aged 16 (died 29th September 2001), Joseph Scholes, aged 16 (died 24th March 2002) and Ian Powell, aged 17 (died 6th October 2002) to detail just eight out of twenty-three deaths.

On the 9th April 2004, Gareth Myatt, a 15 year of child died in prison custody, whilst in Rainsbrook Secure Training Centre near Rugby. Unlike the 24 out of 25 categorised self-inflicted deaths aforementioned, Gareth was the first child to die while being restrained in custody. Gareth was less than five feet tall and weighted six and a half stone (this being the average height and weight for a twelve year old boy). Gareth’s physical stature was clearly that of a young child. However, this did not stop three officers (David Beadnall, David Bailey and Diana Smith) restraining Gareth in the seated double embrace restraint position in an ordeal which lasted for six or seven minutes. During this time Gareth was told by David Beadnall ‘if you can talk then you can breathe’, and you are going to have to shit yourself. Gareth died as he was held down in the restraint position from positional asphyxia after choking on his own vomit. Yet, on the 28th June 2007 a jury ruled Gareth’s death to be accidental.

Four months after Gareth Myatt’s death, Adam Rickwood, died on the 8th August 2004, aged 14. To date, Adam is the youngest child to die in custody in England and Wales. His death categorised as self-inflicted. A further 8 children have died since August 2004 including: Gareth Price, aged 16 (died 20th January 2005), Sam Elphick, aged 17 (died 15th September 2005), Liam McManus, aged 15 (died 29th November 2007), Ryan Clark, aged 17 (died 18th April 2011), Jake Hardy, aged 17, (died 24th January 2012), Alex Kelly, aged 15, (died 25th January 2012), Daniel Adewole, aged 16 (died 4th July 2015) and Caden Steward, aged 16, (died 27th June 2019) to catalogue the latest in this series of deaths.

Thirty-five children aged between 14 to 17 years, all boys, have died in prisons over a 29-year period from 1990 to 2019. 31 out of these 35 deaths have been categorised as self-inflicted. This excludes Chris Greenway’s death which was categorised as homicide, Gareth Myatt’s death which was categorised as accidental, Daniel Adewole which was categorised as natural causes and Caden Steward’s which is not believed to be self-inflicted, yet it is not being treated as suspicious. 34 out of these 35 deaths have taken place in Secure Training Centres (STCs for children aged 12 to 17) or Young Offender Institutions (YOIs for children aged 15 to 17), with the exception of Philip Knight whose self-inflicted death took place in an adult male prison. It is ironic that the STCs and YOIs are establishments that the Ministry of Justice commissions from Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service claim to provide ‘specialist’ custodial places for children aged 12 to 17.

The rebranding and relabelling as ‘Secure Training Centres’ and ‘Youth Offender Institutions’ helps to maintain a smoke and mirrors mirage. These are nothing short of childrens prisons. Further labelisation via the categorisation of self-infliction of these children’s deaths does little but detract away from the trauma, harm and abuse that such institutions which incarcerate children like STCs and YOIs perpetuate. There is a huge body of evidence detailing systemic abuse and child maltreatment within STCs and YOIs, delivered at the hands of Serco and G4S custody officers:

The private sectors such as Serco and G4S have increasingly influential workings on the criminal process. Both assume the right to punish on behalf of the government and as such manage and deliver (in)justice services. Fundamentally, the child abuse which takes place in STCs and YOIs is state-supported and state-sanctioned.

This emergence of the marketisation and privatisation of the prison industrial complex has led to the favoured response of imprisoning children because it is a booming business and there is profit to be made in the ‘corrections’ industry. It appears to be the case that as long as operational obligations are met, profit from the operation of the incarceration of children together with the inhumane practices implemented are in the main hidden away from the public. Interestingly, up until July 2016, all of the Secure Training Centres were run by private companies. This helps to explain why even with all the evidence detailing why we should abolish imprisonment for children, record numbers of children in England and Wales continue to be incarcerated to sustain capitalist profit.

Even though the UK Government, in December 2016, admitted that prisons cannot be made fit for children, children continue to be detained in STCs and YOIs (children’s prisons) which are operating at maximum capacity. Although the government announced two and a half years ago that it would phase out child’s prisons, at a debate held in Parliament on the 25th June 2019 (two days before Caden Steward’s death) Edward Argar, the Minister of Justice refused to give a timetable for the closure of child prisons. To add fuel to the fire, Edward Argar stated “that youth secure estate “requires real reform” but that the system needs to retain custody as an option.” However, the notion of reformism in face of its successive failures is paradoxically non-reformist reform. No more reform of reform or ‘old wine in new bottles’.

200 years of reform have led us to a time where on the 8th August 2004, Steve Hodgson a so-called ‘care’ officer, ‘fearing’ he was about to be bitten, by Adam Rickwood, a 14 year old child, in plain speaking, gave a sharp blow to Adam’s nose with two fingers under the nostrils, inflicting a nose bleed, which bled for one hour. At the time Steve Hodgson, acted on ‘instinct’, whilst Adam was being lifted by four care officers to be placed in his room. Although the way he was carried and the use of a blow to his nose – a “distraction technique” – were “unlawful, there were no charges of assault brought against the care officers.

As Adam Rickwood expressed in his final words of desperation, left in his suicide note on the 8th August 2004 – “What right have they got to hit a child?” To their shame, the Ministry of Justice, backed by the Youth Justice Board, requested the continued use of painful restraint methods for non-compliance to be formalised as part of STC rules. The Secure Training Centre (Amendment) Rules came into force on the 6th July 2007, without parliamentary debate. These ‘rules’ widen the scope for restraint/force to be used against children all of which is permitted under the guise of ensuring “good order and discipline”. The Court of Appeal ruled that the use of painful restraints was an infringement of children’s fundamental human rights. In addition, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, declared that incarceration should be used as a last resort. Even with all that said, the rights of children in detention are still not enforced and the excessive use of restraint/pain-inducing techniques over de-escalation strategies are vehemently favoured as the first response.

The government is clearly failing to protect children, if this were not bad enough, it is actively facilitating the harm of children and blatantly disregarding children’s rights to be protected from violence. When the state, whose role it is to protect, is the perpetrator of harm, who can we turn to? How many more children must die? How many more lessons will be learnt? The time for lesson-learning has passed. The imprisonment of children must end. Now is the time to mobilise, take action and support the End Child Imprisonment campaign launched on the 22nd November 2018 by organisations including: Article 39, the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies, the Howard League for Penal Reform, INQUEST, Just for Kids Law and the National Association for Youth Justice.

Originally posted on:  sharonhartles.weebly.com

 

Contact

Sharon Hartles, MA Postgraduate Crime and Justice student with the Open University

Email: sh28739@ou.ac.uk

Twitter: @shartles1

Images: courtesy of the author

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