DDN October 2020 ‘We have a unique role in breaking county lines’ | Page 7

16- and 17-year-olds who have become quite well known to local police – and who are still in debt bondage themselves – to recruit younger children of 12 , 13 , 14 , to do the drug running . ‘ County lines are becoming increasingly hidden ,’ says Jones , with many young people being moved around the county under the cover of darkness .
Dr Paul Andell , senior lecturer in criminology at the University of Suffolk , is in a position to give further insight into gang culture , having interviewed young people and gang members in three regions , on six sites , over ten years , and undertaken numerous policy reviews .
The transition of some gangs from ‘ street-based collectives ’ to organised crime networks has raised important safeguarding issues , he says , where young people are both perpetrators and victims of crime .
‘ Young people were committing horrendous acts on each other and there was a culture of violence emerging because globalised gangster culture was playing its part on how people should behave , mediated of course through social media ,’ he says . He mentions scaldings with sugared water , slashings which were videoed , and people being bundled into the boots of cars and kidnapped .
The workforce has a structure , with junior members kept in check with ‘ symbolic violence ’ – they are given a beating , and everyone gets to know about it . If somebody robs the line or encroaches on custom , it becomes more extreme . ‘ We ’ ve seen an increase in these violent acts ,’ says Andell .
Top left : 28 February 2020 , London . British Transport police in operation as part of operation Sentinel , tackling drug crime . Credit : Paul Iwala / Alamy Top : Clacton , Essex , 6 February 2020 . Essex Police execute county lines drug dealing search warrants across Essex and London , resulting in a number of arrests and seizure of class A drugs and cash . Credit : Ricci Fothergill / Alamy
Lethal violence is prompting many of the ‘ smarter ’ kids to leave the drugs business , which leaves ‘ a pool of more vulnerable young people ’ taking their place . The incentives are social capital , bonding , a need to belong and be part of a family and a social network , he says , as well as ‘ the promise of a glittering future in the drug-dealing world , the promise of riches ’. Coming from a background of social exclusion can increase the odds , when ‘ young people might not make it in the legitimate economy , so they try their luck in the illegitimate economy ’.
His research matches Jones ’ experience that cannabis is usually the access drug : ‘ Cannabis markets are the talent pool ,’ he says . ‘ If you can be trusted in the cannabis market , you can be trusted in the class A market .’ The other element is the ‘ boyfriend model ’, which involves young girls through ecstasy : ‘ The girls think that the perpetrators are their boyfriends and often this happens in a party setting , hence the high level of party drugs used by the young
females ,’ says Jones . Dame Carol Black ’ s Review of drugs ( DDN , February , page 4 ) talks of young people and children being pulled into the drugs supply on an alarming scale , especially at the most dangerous end of the market . This very violent business model earns profits of more than £ 800,000 a year from an individual line , she says , with ‘ the rise in the county lines business model a major factor in increased drug-related violence ’.
Much of this chimes with The Lammy review ( September 2017 ) and its recommendations for the youth justice system . Joining the cross-party parliamentary group discussion , shadow justice secretary David Lammy said there was nothing new about adults recruiting young people into organised crime .
‘ When we talk about these young people caught up with knives and drugs , the poverty and austerity that led them into that , we must realise that this is nothing new – it ’ s old . All you need to do to understand that is to read Oliver Twist .
‘ Until we get serious about dealing with organised crime – and resource it – we ’ re not going to crack the problem ,’ he added . This meant reforming prison and probation systems , because ‘ recidivism rates are the worst in Europe . There ’ s something not working when there ’ s a cycle of crime and people are committing crimes over again and the system is not rehabilitating them .’
While waiting for national strategy reform , there is also much that can be done to improve knowledge locally with stakeholders , says Anders . There needs to be ‘ a focus on
situational and social prevention – interventions which bring about neighbourhood improvement ’ and eradicate childhood poverty , ‘ because many of the young people involved in county lines come from relatively deprived neighbourhoods ’. Social and agency interventions need to move away from incarceration – ‘ those recruitment grounds for gangs ’ – and towards community supervision and peer-led work .
Just as Shropshire ’ s services learned from the shocking case in their county , there are important lessons for all concerned with youth justice and safeguarding . ‘ We need to re-examine the traditional victim-perpetrator dynamic because it ’ s more complex than that ,’ says Anders , and has ramifications for training and practice across all the services .
Supporting the ‘ absolutely crucial ’ multi-agency approach , Sonya Jones points to the ‘ quite unique ’ role of substance misuse services in having the knowledge and expertise to work holistically and without judgement .
‘ We are not social services , we are not youth justice , we are a service where young people feel that they want support … we become their advocates ,’ she says . ‘ Youth justice is set up to work with perpetrators – but what we know is that these children are not perpetrators , they are actual victims of crimes themselves . They are victims of modern slavery .’ DDN
Discussion in this article took place at the latest Drugs , Alcohol and Justice Cross-Party Parliamentary Group ’ s Zoom meeting on county lines , gangs and youth justice .