Reported by Alice Millington, CSaP Policy Intern
“When you arrest a group of serious, organised criminals, the first thing police expect to see is an increase in street violence”. In our fourth resilience seminar, Dr Colin Wilson (Communities & Engagement Unit, Home Office), delivered the contradictory maxims that must be followed to reduce organised crime in young people – a phenomenon that is as much about failures in community resilience as it is about individual proclivities.
For many young people drawn into serious and organised crime, the principal hook is the drug trade. Often depending on “astonishingly vulnerable” adolescents, many with a high incidence of Adverse Childhood Experiences, their entrance into this world signposts two key failures of resilience. To instil resilience against crime, both the individual and their social circles should receive targeted interventions. These interventions might start off “thin” – namely, PSHE lessons at school. For most people present, these will achieve some good. Yet, whilst schools are very good at hammering home the message of ‘don’t do drugs’, Dr. Wilson admits they rather less good at stressing ‘don’t deal drugs’. Subsequent tiers of interventions directly target individuals who might be ‘at risk’. Very few young participants in serious and organised crime have stable backgrounds; this erodes their personal resilience. Mostly, the objective is to make only small amounts of money – it starts with the need to bring £20 home at the end of the week. Dr. Wilson also highlighted that resilience and vulnerability are still intensely gendered in their treatment. Today, if a 14-year-old girl is found selling sex in the company of a 30-year-old man, the man is arrested and the girl becomes a victim. But a 14-year-old boy found selling drugs alongside a 30-year-old man is arrested on sight. There remain huge shortcomings in the ways we address resilience and vulnerability.
In the remainder of the talk, Dr. Wilson revealed how we can tackle crime whilst remaining sensitive to individual resilience. One of the first priorities when running an intervention is feeding the young people invited – this might be the only meal they eat that day. Organising transport is also key, as many are in the midst of chaotic lives. Whilst the best way to intervene is often personal counselling, the move away from vocational subjects in UK schools also presents a significant challenge to individual and community resilience. What young people need is access to skills, and those who have ‘fallen off’ the educational ladder will struggle to climb back on in the absence of vocational courses.
The Policy Fellows were keen to question Dr. Wilson on the implications of his work. One asked about possible ‘spillovers’ into other forms of criminality when organised crime is tackled. Dr. Wilson explained that people tend only to practice criminal behaviours up to a certain extent: once shoplifting was addressed with security tags, people did not foray into bank robbery to ‘make up the difference’. But as the opening quote illustrates, tackling existing organised crime networks presents huge difficulties, and crime tends to spike in the immediate aftermath. Though preventative community action is the ‘gold standard’, budgetary and personnel constraints usually prevail. In the final moments of the seminar, one Policy Fellow asked about those who don’t fall prey to organised crime, despite systemic factors promoting its emergence. The seminar concluded with agreement that we could learn much from people who have survived and thrived from adverse circumstances. From the most resilient among us, what lessons can be learnt from their experiences?