Police visit pupil referral units in Suffolk to deter children from being lured into drug crime
Police community support officers are visiting pupil referral units (PRUs) in Suffolk in a bid to stop vulnerable young people being targeted for recruitment by drug gangs.
A report by the St Giles Trust claims children in PRUs, which teach children who cannot attend mainstream school, are more vulnerable to indoctrination into drug-dealing gangs.
Speaking in the wake of the County Lines Scoping Report, published by the St Giles Trust, Suffolk police and crime commissioner Tim Passmore said: “The issues raised in this report are of huge concern to me.”
As a result PCSOs are visiting PRUs to prevent gangs targeting young people as runners or deliverers of drugs.
A plan has also been put into place which looks to identify children who are potentially at risk of being indoctrinated into such gangs and to provide intervention.
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The programme also looks to intervene and provide exit support for those already involved in drugs and gang-related activity.
Training sessions have been attended by school staff, police, housing providers, health staff, faith organisations and partners from voluntary and community sectors across Suffolk.
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Mr Passmore said: “It is tragically sad to see young lives wasted by their involvement in the illegal drugs trade.
“I am committed to do all I can, working with other public sector partners and the charitable sector, to protect our young people.
“My aim is to offer our young people a real alternative – to show them that crime does not pay.
“But to do this we need a multi-agency approach which involves education, housing and health to name but a few.”
The county lines report, published in May 2018, made many claims about the susceptibility of children to recruitment into gangs.
It reads: “Children involved in county lines are often outside mainstream education, many being referred to PRUs.
“Once there, children rarely move back into mainstream education even where the arrangements were intended to be temporary.”
The report went onto to claim that PRUs “appear to be fertile ground for recruitment” into county lines and that exclusion appears to be a “highly significant trigger point” for vulnerable pupils to turn to crime.
Councillor Paul West, Suffolk County Council’s (SCC) cabinet member for Ipswich, was keen to echo the commissioner’s views.
He said: “Children and young people from all walks of life can be targeted by gang related activity.
“It is not an issue that solely targets young people who are educated through PRUs, although it’s recognised that some groups of young people who attend these settings are potentially more vulnerable than others.
“The better supported a young person is by their family, friends and their educational institute, the less likely they are to be a target to criminals looking to exploit them.
“Protecting our children and young people from exploitation from gangs is not something that can be done by educational settings, social workers or police officers working in isolation.
“It is a complex issue that requires a joined up, partnership approach.
“We all have a responsibility to keep our young people safe from potential harm.”
A new multi-agency plan to tackle the issue has been given a £500,000 cash injection by Suffolk police according to Mr Passmore, who decisively threw his weight behind the programme.
He said: “I am united with council leaders across the county in our commitment to protect our young people from getting dragged into this dreadful existence.
“We have agreed the problem needs to be tackled county-wide to prevent drug activity simply being pushed out of Ipswich and into other parts of Suffolk.
“We have allocated £500,000 to fund a multi-agency team which to co-ordinate efforts to tackle drugs and related gang culture and to conduct early-intervention and education work with young people to stop them getting involved in the first place.”