Gang injunctions arrive in the UK
In November 2009, new provisions for tackling gangs under the Policing and Crime Act were passed: the gang injunction. Inevitably, these have already been dubbed the ‘gangbo’ – an ASBO (Anti-Social Behaviour Order) for gang members. Originally restricted to those 18 and over, only a week after the act was approved, the Crime and Security Bill proposed its extension to cover those 14-17. Gang injunctions have been used in the US for over two decades. The UK version is slightly different. Here, orders are to be applied to individuals suspected of engaging in, encouraging or assisting gang-related violence. US injunctions are applied against a gang – by specifying named individuals – with no requirement that targeted individuals have been involved in gang violence (although most will have been involved in ‘nuisance’). In light of this, the UK version might be useful if it functioned, as intended, to reduce violence, especially if it was to do so without unfairly restricting gang members not caught up in gang violence (as might seem more likely in the US). But will it?
Oddly, despite the long history of US gang injunctions, there is very little research evaluating their effectiveness. Existing research shows mixed effects on community crime levels (reductions, increases, and no effect), and similar variable effects on fear of crime (see Maxson et al. 2005). Gang injunctions have been criticised on a number of fronts, for example as racially discriminatory or as infringing on the right to freedom of movement (see Stewart 1998).
The feature of the gang injunction we address here is the assumption made about gang members’ use of space, as expressed in the legislation. The prohibitions enabled by injunctions refer throughout to geographical space: being in a particular place; being with particular persons in a particular place; being in charge of a particular species of animal in a particular place; wearing particular clothing in a particular place; or using the internet to facilitate or encourage violence. ‘Place’, therefore, is fundamental in how these injunctions are to be applied.
The centrality of place is not surprising given that youth gangs are usually assumed to be street-based groups, in which generally agreed, defended, and sometimes marked ‘territory’ is the arena for gang violence. This is evident in public and policy discourse in the UK. Gang injunctions in particular are based on the assumption that gang members live and hang around together in particular public places, and that through this public association enact the trouble they cause. Rosen and Venkatesh (2007: 624) observe this assumption in the US: ‘gangs need to operate in public to survive; take away their freedom of association and one dramatically reduces the likelihood that gangs will be able to function’. Do gangs really need to operate in public to survive? Our research suggests they do not. We challenge that...