In the Media

Groups with roots in the community are best placed to tackle gang crime

PUBLISHED February 14, 2012

Successfully engaging with disaffected young people is difficult, and there are few organisations with the necessary credibility, experience, track record and capacity

By the time they have reached 15, almost every boy in an inner London school will have been the victim, or know someone who has been the victim, of a violent crime, or they will have committed a violent crime or know someone who has committed one. It's sad that it's normal to them.

Leap, the charity I founded and run, engages with hundreds of young people each year in schools, youth clubs or our employment programmes. The mannerisms, language, dress and mindsets of many of them are closer to those of gangs than to those needed to enter the world of work.

Almost a quarter of young people are unemployed. The causes include poverty, family breakdown, difficult or nonexistent relationships with fathers, inadequate education, youth culture, wrong role models and lack of self-esteem. Without help, these youngsters are unlikely to be able to navigate their way into mainstream life.

To those who say "if they commit a crime, just lock them up", I would argue that with the cost of keeping a young person in prison ? around ?60,000 a year, and three-quarters reoffend ? and the incalculable cost to the victim's families and friends, surely it makes sense to spend a few thousand pounds before it gets to that point? They can be helped into education, work or training.

The Metropolitan police admits enforcement alone won't solve the problem of violent youth crime. Steve Roundwood, head of the Trident gang crime command, at a meeting of community stakeholders at Scotland Yard, told us: "There needs to be meaningful community engagement and problem solving."

So when I see headline-grabbing raids on the homes of suspected gang members in London, I wonder when the ultimately more cost-effective investment in prevention will begin.

Successfully engaging with these young people is difficult, as any parent of a teenager will tell you, and there are few organisations with the necessary credibility, experience, track record and capacity. Small organisations with roots in the local community are best placed to divert disaffected young people from crime. The ultimate aim must be to get them into employment.

During the sessions I have with young people, everyone says they want "money", and that if they can't get work they will eventually find some other way of getting it. If they are already involved in crime (usually drugs and/or robbery), they say they will need to get a job to have any chance of stopping.

The government's commissioning policies are resulting in organisations that should be key partners in this fight, such as my own, being starved of funds. Leap has not received public funding since March 2011 and is using its reserves to continue to provide services. These will run out in April. But the circumstances in which violent youth crime flourishes will continue, and addressing them needs to be a key element in any anti-gang strategy.

? Tunde Banjoko is founder and chief executive of Leap He sits on the Department for Work and Pensions' ethnic minority advisory group. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds