Lambeth aims to slash youth custody rate through gang plan

Lambeth Council has launched a five-year strategy to target gang culture in the south London borough in an attempt to reduce violent youth crime.

Young and Safe is believed to the first comprehensive joint council, health and police strategy of its kind in the UK. The council aims to reduce the youth violence rate by 5.2% by March 2009 and bring down the custody rate for young people from 11.9% to 9% over the next three years.

As part of the initiative the council will pump an extra £1.7m into youth services, create a specialist outreach team to work with young people at risk of getting involved in violent crime and work with the police on a new intelligence unit to target problem families and individuals.

Dilemma for young people on estates

Lambeth Council leader Steve Reed said that young people needed to be given more opportunities to escape gang life. “There’s a dilemma facing young people moving onto an estate where two rival gangs operate,” he added. “Join one gang, and the other is out to get you. Join the second, and you become a target for the first. Join neither, and you’re prey to both.”

Parents will also be offered extra help, with the possibility of a “hotline” being set up for those who are concerned about their children’s involvement with gangs. In addition existing schemes such as X-it, a Brixton-based project that helps young people out of gang culture, will be extended.

John Readman, divisional director children and young people’s services, said overall the council would spend an extra £600,000 a year on working with the “most high-risk young people”, including through gangs mediation work and mentoring.

He said the council would also work with 40-50 families with young people who are the most serious offenders.

Follows spate of killings

The strategy was drawn up by a commission set up in the wake of a spate of killings in Lambeth involving young people last year.

In all, there were 27 gang-related deaths in 2007 and an estimated 30 gangs operating in Lambeth.

The commission’s proposals were based on research which found that 22% of young people in the borough between the ages of 10 and 18 were affected by gangs, with high levels of youth unemployment cited as a reason.

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