VIOLENT crime committed by gang members with a history of “prolific offending” has fallen by a third in Scotland’s biggest city following the introduction of a pioneering support project.
The “Impact” project has been credited with a 38 per cent reduction in offences, including assault, serious assault and weapon possession in Glasgow.
The three-year pilot project, which was run by the charity Includem and the police, targeted gang members aged 14 to 18 with the aim of reducing criminal activity in Glasgow.
Analysis of the initiative by the independent Dartington Social Research Unit, which was published yesterday, found that of the 48 young people taking part, 81 per cent reduced the severity of their offending, while 62 per cent reduced the frequency of offending when compared to their behaviour in the six months before.
However, publication of the analysis came as new Scottish Government figures showed that nearly 30 per cent of all adult offenders go on to be convicted again.
Those released from short custodial sentences of less than six months have more than double the average number of reconvictions compared to offenders given community sentences, according to the figures.
The Includem project, which has now been extended to cover those up to the age of 21, identifies those who are the biggest risk to society and who have a minimum of two convictions for violence or weapons offences. They must also be identified as a “prolific offender” by the police and have been charged more than once in the past six months.
They are then encouraged to take part in the voluntary scheme, which provides a range of emotional, educational and vocational support.
Angela Morgan, chief executive of Includem, said: “Five years ago, the seeds of the Impact project were sown at a conference when an assistant chief constable and I had a discussion about how they could get access to help for the young people they were repeatedly re-arresting which would address the reasons behind their behaviour, and stop this cycle.
“In Glasgow, it is widely recognised that there is a substantial group of excluded and challenging young people whose violence, often gang-related, causes significant disruption and harm in their communities.
“Police Scotland is clear that enforcement on its own does not work and, despite reported reduced levels of gang activity and violent crime in Glasgow, there remain communities with significant issues of territorialism and a culture of violence that has to be challenged.”
The Social Research Unit found that the 48 young people taking part in the initial pilot – all but one of whom were male – had carried out a range of offences in the six months prior to their referral. While breach of the peace, vandalism and consuming alcohol in a public place were the most common offences, weapon possessions, assault and police assault also figured prominently.
In total, 34 per cent of all offences during that six-month period were violent, including abductions and serious assault.
Superintendent Alick Irvine said: “This evaluation provides evidence that effective collaboration across a range of agencies can deliver dividends for the young people involved and improve the safety of people in our communities”.
On average, young people worked with the project for nine months at a cost of £240 per person per week. That compares with weekly costs of £620 for prison or £1,000 for a young offenders’ institute.
Includem said there were also “substantial” savings for the public purse when it came to the reduction in the number of arrests and court appearances, with each of these costing £1,930 and £750 respectively.
Following an initial home visit from police and Includem, those taking part in the Impact initiative are offered a range of help tailored to their circumstances.
This can include cognitive therapy, help from alcohol and drug treatment services and emotional support from a
24-hour helpline. Each participant receives an average of six hours of one-to-one support each week, Includem said.
Time spent working with the charity is deducted from community payback order hours and participation and progress are taken into account during court proceedings.
Kate Tobin, author of the Social Research Unit’s report, said: “The next phase will be to consider whether children supported by Includem are involved in less violence and crime than they would have been if they were not supported.”
Justice secretary Kenny MacAskill said: “This is a fantastic project which is making a real difference.”
‘My goal is to get a job and make some money. I’d probably be in jail if it wasn’t for Includem’
BY THE age of 20, Ryan* was already well known to the police for his repeated violent offending.
His long list of charges included breach of the peace and the possession of an offensive weapon. Much of the offending was gang-related and fuelled by alcohol.
Ryan’s unsettled home life – his family were evicted from their house and excluded from social housing due to antisocial behaviour – ended up with him receiving a sentence at Polmont Young Offenders Institution.
But despite his difficulties, Ryan was initially suspicious of those reaching out to help him.
It took four weeks of persistent visits for the charity Includem and the police to persuade Ryan that they were serious about helping him.
The charity identified that by building Ryan’s belief and self-confidence they could help tackle his repeat offending.
Through coaching, conversations, motivational interviewing and cognitive behaviour exercises, it was recognised that Ryan’s offending behaviour and chaotic lifestyle were linked to his poor living conditions and separation from his family. His family were supported by Includem to find suitable accommodation that brought them all together again.
After settling in his new home, Includem supported Ryan in vocational training.
Ryan said: “I started working with Includem about a year ago because of my gang fighting and offending. I was also homeless. The Includem support is really good – they were really there for me. My life has changed in the last year since working with Includem.
“I have stopped offending and have no outstanding charges. My future goal is to get a job and make some money. I’d probably be in jail if it wasn’t for Includem.”
More than a year after Ryan became involved with the initiative, he has a construction skill qualification and has been offered employment. He has moved on to Includem’s Transitional Support service, which provides help towards independent living.
• Ryan’s real name has been changed to protect his identity