The Evening Standard (London)
December 21, 2012 Friday
HARDENED gang members are being diverted from crime with a pioneering scheme that teaches dog-handling.
Two former gang members, who both served jail terms, have so far completed the intensive 23-week course, and neither has reoffended since then.
During the "military-style" scheme, funded by Enfield council, participants learn a mix of animal welfare, academic law and dog handling. They also spend time with Army and police dog units, and in animal shelters. After training, they work in the community and in parks, teaching young people about the impact caused by dangerous dogs and "irresponsible or unaware" owners.
Those taking part in the pilot project had committed crimes including robbery, weapons possession, and drugs and driving offences. The course was run by Paul Alison of Parkguard, a company that works withpolice and councils on security. Operations director Lee Hutchings said: "We saw a dramatic change in them over the 23 weeks.
"This course was aimed at older and more entrenched gang members, but what was interesting was that they had just had enough and wanted things to change. The aim of this course is to prevent reoffending, produce positive behavioural change, give them the skills they need to progress, and ultimately result in employment. This is a no-nonsense, uniformed, hands-on course, delivered using military ethos.
"These lads were warned that this was a chance for them to turn their lives around and any misbehaving would result in them being shown the door."
One of the participants, Jordan, 26, from Enfield, said: "I've done some things in the past I'm not proud of and this scheme has helped me turn my life around and keep away from negative influences. I've learned how to handle and train dogs and it's helped me keep out of trouble."
One of the men is now joining the Army while the other has part-time jobs in dog training and youth work. Christine Hamilton, Enfield council's cabinet member for community well being, said: "This is an innovative and effective way of reducing gang crime."