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Focused deterrence has cut crime in the USA. Could it work in England?

The Youth Endowment Fund and the Home Office announce a £6 million investment to find out.

Focused deterrence has cut crime in the USA. Could it work in England?

The Youth Endowment Fund and the Home Office announce a £6 million investment to find out.

  • The Youth Endowment Fund (YEF) and Home Office today announced a joint investment of £6 million in focused deterrence, a strategy developed in the United States that combines communicating the consequences of violence with support to help people move away from crime.  
  • Research from the YEF Toolkit shows that focused deterrence strategies have been highly effective – on average reducing crime by 33%. But lots of this evidence is international. That’s why the YEF and Home Office are investing in building the evidence in England.
  • Five police force areas (covering Coventry, Nottingham, Leicester, Manchester and Wolverhampton) will develop this community-led, partnership approach to preventing violence. They’ll all be subject to rigorous evaluation, so that we can find out if it works here.  

A strategy that has successfully cut violent crime in America is set to be tested in England.

The Youth Endowment Fund – a charity with a £200 million endowment and a mission to prevent children and young people from becoming involved in violence – and the Home Office have today announced that they’ll jointly invest £6 million in strategies called focused deterrence.

This involves lots of different agencies and community groups – including the police, housing providers, faith leaders and schools – taking a partnership approach to ending violence. Together, they work with people already involved in violence in two ways. First, they communicate the consequences of continuing to commit crimes. But the approach isn’t about handing out harsh punishment or crackdowns. Alongside this, people involved in crime and violence are offered a range of support (from mental health to employment programmes), to help them leave crime behind for good.

According to the YEF’s previous analysis of international evidence, focused deterrence could have a high impact on reducing crime and violence. However, most of the available research was conducted in the United States (with one study evaluating the Community Initiative to Reduce Violence in Glasgow). This means that we need more evidence to see how it might work in England.

That’s why they’re working with the Home Office and four different local partners in five locations:

  • The West Midlands Violence Reduction Unit (VRU) in Coventry and Wolverhampton
  • Nottingham City and Nottinghamshire VRU in Nottingham
  • Violence Reduction Network in Leicester
  • Greater Manchester VRU in Manchester

Different agencies and local leaders in each of these areas will work closely together to build partnerships and deliver programmes that work for those involved in violence in their community. Each partnership will also be part of a research study (led by the University of Hull), to see if focused deterrence could cut crime in England.  

More about focused deterrence: what is it and where it’s worked

Focused deterrence is an approach to violence reduction that was developed in Boston (USA) in the mid-1990s. It recognises that most serious violence is associated with a small group of people who are themselves very likely to be victims of violence, trauma, and extremely challenging circumstances. Their involvement in violence is often driven by exploitation, victimisation and self-protection.

Focused deterrence attempts to identify the people most likely to be involved in violence and supports them to stop. The age of the people involved depends on the context and the crime problem identified but projects have worked with children as young as 14 or 15.

It often involves:

  • Support. Help for people involved in violence to access positive support and social services.
  • Community engagement. Engaging the wider community to communicate that they want violence to stop and those involved to be safe, provide support, and encourage reintegration in the community. Projects will often arrange engagement between the people who are the focus of the intervention and victims’ family members, reformed former group members, and faith leaders.
  • Deterrence. Clear communication of the consequences of violence and swift and certain enforcement if violence occurs.

To find out more about focused deterrence and its impact on violence reduction, visit the YEF Toolkit – a free online resource that summarises the best available research on what works – and what doesn’t – to reduce youth violence.

Amanda Solloway MP, Minister for Safeguarding, said: “Serious violence has a devastating impact on individuals and communities. This year, the Government has invested £130m to address serious violence and homicide, delivering our twin-track approach which combines tough enforcement with early intervention to divert young people away from crime. As part of this, we are committed to testing and evaluating what really works to prevent violence. This is why we are providing £3m to the Youth Endowment Fund to test the Focused Deterrence approach in the UK context.”

Jon Yates, Executive Director at the Youth Endowment Fund, said: “From Chicago to Glasgow, focused deterrence has saved lives. When we get the police and the community to work together, we can identify and support young people and pull them away from crime and violence. This has worked across the world. We now need to get it working in England. Together, we can make sure that every child’s life is free from violence.” 

To find out more about the investment, please visit: