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The woman who took on Glasgow’s gangs

Up until very recently, Glasgow’s gang culture made the city one of the most violent in western Europe. Then a program led by Karyn McCluskey turned the city in a better direction.

The unit’s big moment, McCluskey says, was understanding that violence works “like an infectious disease. It’s passed on. You can catch it. You might live and die in a square mile. Your life is not predictable or manageable. You may have alcoholic parents, suffer domestic violence. Nobody cares about you. You’re incapable of empathy: hard-wired for violence.”

They coined a phrase: recreational violence. “There’s also the thrill, the sensation-seeking,” McCluskey says. “You look at their faces on the CCTV, they’re loving it. They’re young guys just not equipped to make good decisions for themselves, caught up in the gang dynamic.”

So, if they see themselves as a group, treat them as a group, reasoned McCluskey. She went to the United States and met a man called David Kennedy, whose model for tackling gang violence had worked in Boston since the late 1990s. In the jargon, it’s known as a “focused deterrence strategy”, harnessing a multitude of different agencies plus resources from within the community. McCluskey set about bringing it to Glasgow.

Since late 2008, the program has cut the rate of violent offending by 46%. John Seabrook wrote about David Kennedy and his program for the New Yorker in 2009. (via @jcn)