Page last updated at 10:32 GMT, Wednesday, 15 October 2008 11:32 UK

Britain learns Chicago gang plan

Boys with airgun
The murder rate for young adults in Glasgow is five times that of England

Experts on gang culture in the United States are offering advice on how to tackle the issue in Britain.

Two officials from Chicago are speaking at a conference in Glasgow organised by the Scotland's Violence Reduction Unit.

They will describe how gang violence can be tackled through counselling, mediation and the use of role models.

The initiative comes as a Glasgow University study suggests that gang behaviour could be a "coping mechanism" for young people living in poverty.

Researchers looked at the behaviour of young people in Bradford, Bristol, Glasgow, Sunderland, Tower Hamlets in London and Peterborough.

Kenny Ruiz, head of youth interventions with the YMCA in Chicago, and Claude Robinson, head of Uhlich Children's Advantage Network, will spend a week discussing gang violence with counterparts in the UK.

Mr Robinson said: "Ultimately some of the problems between the UK and Chicago may be different but the issues are the same.

We negotiate with the leaders to get them out. There is always a beating but sometimes it is about negotiating the minutes down to two rather than five
Kenny Ruiz
Chicago YMCA
"It's young men from deprived, high-crime neighbourhoods and broken families. It's about identifying their purpose in life and motivating them."

Mr Robinson said that lessons could be learned from sharing the Chicago model.

He said: "We work with these young men weekly to identify their purpose in life and try to get them to work out who they are."

Mr Ruiz, recently named Chicagoan of the year, became a gang member when he was 12, but now works with about 800 gang members a year.

"In the past 18 months we have had 18 detachments - young people leaving gangs because of the dedication of staff," he said.

Gang beatings

"We negotiate with the leaders to get them out. There is always a beating but sometimes it is about negotiating the minutes down to two rather than five, or getting a smaller guy to do the beating.

"Everyone wants to get beaten on a cold day so they can wear more layers. We collect favours from the leaders by maybe helping them with court cases."

Det Chief Sup John Carnochan, head of the Scotland's Violence Reduction Unit, visited gang projects in Chicago in February to see how the work had helped reduce the city's murder rate from about 600 in 2003 to about 450 a year.

Authorities in Glasgow, where the murder rate for teenagers and young adults is five times that of England and Wales, are keen to emulate this.

Mr Carnochan said Scotland would not simply copy the Chicago projects but adapt them to work here.

He said: "There are clearly differences but the main factors in relation to violence are poverty, poor health, low aspirations, and they are common to both.

"It just happens that the poor communities there are black and Hispanic whereas we have communities which are neither black nor Hispanic but who suffer the same problems.

"I don't think we can do exactly the same as they are doing in Chicago but it would be silly not to look at how they have tackled the problems and made real inroads with it.

"Here we have got the same gang names and territories that we had 20 years ago. It is time we did something different."

The Glasgow University study found a link between poverty and territoriality
Meanwhile, a study has been published by the University of Glasgow, which suggests a strong link between gang mentality and disadvantaged areas around the UK.

The researchers found that becoming involved in gang or territorial behaviour could provide young people with leisure, excitement and support outside their home.

Keith Kintrea, lead researcher, said: "We discovered territorial behaviour among young people in a wide range of disadvantaged areas in cities across England and Scotland.

"Young people often had positive motivations for becoming involved, such as developing their identity and friendships.

"But strong territorial identities frequently led to violent conflict with territorial groups from other areas."

Travel constraints

The study, for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, also found that territorial behaviour placed major constraints on young people.

Many could not go to certain areas because they did not feel safe, and could not access amenities for the same reason.

This put their job and education prospects at risk as fear prevented them leaving their neighbourhoods.

Researchers indentified conflict in all six areas, mostly on the boundaries between residential areas.

Those involved in gangs were mainly 13 to 17-year-old boys, though men in their 20s also showed territorial behaviour, particularly where it was associated with gangs and criminality.

In some areas there was also evidence that low-level territorial behaviour could be a foundation for the formation of criminal gangs involved in distributing drugs and gun-related crime.

The researchers found that there were many anti-territorial projects operating across Britain and recommended that they should be evaluated in more depth so that good practice can be replicated.

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