Gang injunctions launched in England and Wales

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Media captionFormer gang member Darrell James: "None of these things do anything to stop crime"

Powers to restrict the movements of people accused of gang membership have come into force in England and Wales.

Gang injunctions can be used to ban people from certain places or from walking aggressive dogs.

The powers are similar to anti-social behaviour orders and were conceived by the former Labour government after appeals from councils for help.

Ministers say the injunctions should not replace prosecutions of gang members involved in violent crime.

Police and local councils can seek gang injunctions in the county courts against adults who they believe are involved in gang-related violence and crime.

The Labour government devised the powers after Birmingham City Council tried unsuccessfully to use ordinary civil injunctions against suspected gang members in the city.

Like Asbos, each order is tailored to the individual and could include bans from particular neighbourhoods where police know rival gangs meet to fight.

Individuals could also be forced to take part in activities designed to protect them from gang culture, such as mentoring schemes, or could be banned from wearing certain colours used by gangs to signify membership.

A separate power covering injunctions for young people aged 14 to 17 is being piloted later in the year.

'Break gang culture'

Home Office minister James Brokenshire said the government was "not expecting huge numbers" of gang injunctions to be issued, but they would be a useful tool in certain cases "to break gang culture".

"This is a very different tool than an Asbo," he said. "This is a targeted tool to deal with serious gang violence.

"This isn't anti-social behaviour - you're talking about shootings, knife incidents, serious youth violence.

"As the police have said, they should be considered as a tactical response to disrupt gang activity and we think they can be effective."

Mr Brokenshire said breaching an injunction could result in a prison sentence of up to two years or a fine.

But Paul Fletcher, who works with gangs in Sheffield, told the BBC he believed there should be more focus on preventative strategies.

"For example, getting into the schools to warn of the dangers, but also putting money into positive activities for young people at street level, so that they're steered away from the attraction of the gangs."

Isabella Sankey, from human rights group Liberty, said the injunctions would "fast-track people into the criminal justice system", not divert them away from it.

"Those people that are involved in violent, gang-related activity need to feel the full force of the law," she said.

"Those that are vulnerable to being scooped up into a gang - because their older brothers are involved, their older cousins are involved - need to have the engagement of public bodies to divert them away from such activities - not be branded criminals and face punishments in the community.

"For a government that promised to restore civil liberties, this is a very perverse position indeed."

But Kirk Dawes, who works as a mediator between gangs in Birmingham, said he believed the measure really could save lives.

"When we talk about diverting them away, sometimes people have to be made to do that. At the moment there is no real way of doing that.

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Media captionCrime Prevention Minister James Brokenshire: "We will be piloting the injunctions for teenagers later this year"

"The injunction is something that gets in before we actually start criminalising a lot of the people who are involved in gangs."

The exact extent of gang-related crime is not clear in the UK partly because it is difficult to define a gang, when someone is a member, and the role that the groups play in specific incidents.

One 2006 study for the Home Office found that between 6% and 10% of 10 to 19-year-olds said they were in a gang.

Last year, a joint report by the prisons, police and probation watchdogs cautioned against exaggerating the power of gangs - but also warned against ignoring them.

BBC News website readers have been sending in their reaction to this story. Here is a selection of their comments.

I have a few friends that are in gangs and if they were told that they couldn't wear a certain colour they would just laugh and wear it all the more. The things suggested to "deter" people in gangs won't work. Its a desperate attempt. Jessica, Ipswich, England

I think this is a great idea, I am an OAP and have been a victim of gang related crime as have several of my friends. Ged, London, England

My father told me how pre-war gangs were broken up by national service and young men learned to obey rules and lead productive lives. Being removed from their home environment would seem to be a good way to help these young people make a new start and surely national service would be better than prison. Billy, Rothesay, Scotland

I'm sick of both parents and police pampering these 'kids'. Too many people are dying for the sake of perceived disrespect or to protect their little manor. Luke, London, England

If there is evidence of criminal activity, prosecute. Otherwise, leave people alone. Anything else is totalitarianism. Kimpatsu, Tokyo, Japan

I am an former prison officer and I have experience in youth crime. Youngsters today have no outlets to vent their energy and no good role models. Most troubled youngsters come from poor educated backgrounds, where three generations have survived on benefits. Change the culture of the country and then maybe, we will see a difference in the youth culture. More youth centres, and more local youth workers are needed. Neil, Leeds, England

It will increase the division between those people bordering on criminality and the law-abiding majority, giving fuel to the fire of the anger felt by gang members. Martin, Helsingoer, Denmark

If gang behaviour, rather than individual behaviour, is an issue, hold all members of a gang responsible for the criminal actions of any one member of that gang. Megan, Cheshire, England

There are several points that must be considered before moving ahead with this law. They have to define what is a gang in the context of today's society. Cross cultural work and research must be looked at and support for young people must exist within the community, on a group or individual level. I think enforcement of such a law undermines the meaning of democracy. Razi, Ottawa, Canada

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