Dying to Belong: An In-depth Review of Street Gangs in Britain

12 February 2009

Full Report

Executive Summary

In response to rising gang-related deaths, Dying to Belong investigates the true nature and scale of gang culture in Britain.

The decade leading up to this report saw an increase in gang culture and its associated violence, particularly in the most disadvantaged neighborhoods, with gang members getting younger, violence becoming increasingly chaotic, and geographical territory transcending drug territory. The report argues that the failure of past governments to act decisively has allowed gangs to become more deeply entrenched in the country’s most disadvantaged communities. There has often been a lack of knowledge and understanding of gang culture, further hampered by poor data and analysis. In this context, the lack of a single universally adopted definition of a gang is a key problem. We identify poor leadership at the most senior levels in central and local government and poor coordination between agencies as a significant obstacle. There has also been too great a focus on enforcement and penal populism - pursuing punitive policies to win votes – at the expense of addressing the drivers of gangs and violence.

Our blueprint for tackling Britain’s growing gang problem sets out policy solutions in the immediate-, medium- and long-term. Key immediate-term recommendations include: the universal adoption of a standardised definition of gangs; local authorities taking the lead on gang prevention and a Gang Prevention Unit being established in Central Government to support them in their task. We recommend that the areas where gang crime is widespread be designated ‘Gang Prevention Zones’, and made the focus of a concerted multi-agency effort to reverse gang culture. Within these zones a multi-pronged approach should be adopted, combining targeted enforcement with positive intervention and prevention. This would comprise police actively targeting gang leaders to give them the following ultimatum: ending the violence in return for the appropriate support, or continuing and consequently being brought to justice. Such a model has achieved dramatic reductions in gang crime in parts of the US and UK. In the medium-term policies should be deployed to break down barriers between young people and the police. We believe the third sector has a key role to play here. And finally, to prevent gang-involvement in the long-term, any strategy must tackle the drivers of gang culture, not just the symptoms.