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Gangs in prison: violence reduction and rehabilitation

Close-up of two people having a meeting. One of them holds a booklet about "Tagging".

We have launched the latest brochure on our Gangs and Violence Reduction Custodial Services.

First introduced to HMP Thameside in 2013, we were asked to help reduce the risk posed by gang-involved prisoners. The Catch22 service now operates across four other prisons, with a youth-specific model at HMYOI Feltham. Run by professionals with an extensive knowledge of gang culture, the service encourages people to leave gang lifestyles behind.

Initial engagement with participants identifies issues related to gang involvement, before risk management and support strategies are put in place. Through our tailored intervention programme, R.O.A.D (Rehabilitation Offering Another Direction), we work closely with participants to evaluate their past choices and to develop their communication and coping skills for use while in custody and beyond. Further support identifies educational and employment opportunities for them to pursue on release.

Without addressing gang-affiliation in custody, the cycle between street and prison violence will continue. Our collaborations with community-based organisations mean that our work doesn’t just reduce violence in prisons, but enables a successful reintegration back into the community.

“I am convinced that the work they have done has prevented serious harm to many prisoners. It is their drive and their understanding of the problem that has made Thameside the safe place that prisoners now consider that it is.”

– John Biggin OBE, ex-HMP Thameside Director

This brochure offers an insight into the Gangs and Violence Reduction custodial services we currently deliver in prisons across the UK.

Across its services, Catch22 works with 140,000 young people and adults each year, designing and delivering services that build resilience and aspiration in people and communities in England and Wales. Across 18 prisons, we work in custody screening and offender management, through to mediation and long-term resettlement. We deliver services for victims, foreign nationals in custody, and facilitate intervention and support to those on remand.

20,156 individuals were supported across all Catch22’s custodial-based services in 2022-2023.

We work across the social welfare cycle. This means that our services are informed by a deep understanding of the issues that lead people to crime, gang involvement and ultimately, a prison sentence. Our teams draw on the expertise of our substance misuse projects, our alternative provision schools, and our child exploitation services, as well as the years of early intervention work, we have conducted within the justice system.

Knife crime has surged by 5% in the past year, according to the latest release from the ONS, marking a concerning rise in violence across England and Wales (benkinsella.org.uk). According to police records, there were 48,716 incidents involving a knife or sharp instrument, compared to 46,367 the previous year (The Ben Kinsella Trust, 2024).

The supposed security of gang association is persuasive, while imprisoned and gang-associated prisoners are disproportionately involved in violent incidents. Our research and experience have taught us that there are clear teachable moments to encourage gang exit, as well as improving prison environments that experience problematic groupings in custody, by responding to the negative consequences that arise from gang involvement in custody.

Effective risk management is essential to effective rehabilitation. Without it, prison teams are required to focus on being reactive, only tackling issues as and when they occur, rather than being able to build a strategy that prevents violence in the long term.

Rehabilitation and resettlement: Learning from experience, we understand that to truly reduce this violence, we must provide an alternative to gang life and empower each person to follow a new path. Our custody-based practitioners offer a unique opportunity to enable this, so that on release everyone has the best opportunity to successfully settle back into, and even thrive in, society.

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