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‘It’s like working away for two weeks’: The harms associated with young drug dealers commuting from a saturated London drug market

Abstract

This article discusses some new developments in British illicit drug markets: the commuting of London-based gang members to sell drugs in other British towns, or in gang member’s parlance: ‘working the country lines’. This is concerning for several reasons, not least because children and young people may be running away from home and putting themselves at significant risk by dealing drugs, including involvement in the distribution of drugs from ‘crack houses’. This article hypothesises that the increased saturation of London drug markets is increasing the chances of drug dealers commuting from their homes, which in turn raises particular harms, including conflict with established dealers in other cities as well as child welfare issues. The article concludes with some policy and research recommendations.

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Notes

  1. This article takes as a starting point the Eurogang definition of a gang as … any durable, street-oriented youth group whose involvement in illegal activity is part of its group identity (cited in Smithson et al, 2011, p. 54). For in-depth definitional debates please refer to Joseph and Gunter (2011), Smithson et al (2011) and Wood and Alleyne (2010).

  2. To reduce potential stigmatisation of the research site and protect participants all names and locations have been anonymised (Aldridge and Medina, 2008).

  3. While some of the participants initially claimed to not be gang members, as the interviews progressed they began to imply or openly state gang membership. In one case, a participant repeatedly asserted that he was not a gang member, yet presented from his pocket a bandana showing his gangs colours.

  4. This particular issue was also informally discussed with two police officers from Sussex police force, who collaborated many of our findings.

  5. While relationships are more complex than the core/fringe distinction implies (Papachristos, 2006), it does represent a useful starting point.

  6. Jacobs (1999, p. 566) described how, towards the end of the 1990s, the St Louis street crack cocaine markets had become ‘saturated and unprofitable’ and the sellers ‘who remain often compete over a relatively small, largely indigent cadre of street addicts’. The St Louis dealers adapted to the changing market by switching their attention from crack cocaine to heroin; which many perceived to be more profitable and less open to market fluctuations associated with crack consumption.

  7. While the negative effects of crack cocaine use are well documented it is worth bearing in mind that there are many distorted images of what it means to be a consumer of crack (see Reinarman and Levine, 1997). We are not trying to demonise crack cocaine consumers with stereotypical images but rather identify some of the contextual factors surrounding some crack cocaine markets.

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Acknowledgements

The author would like to thank Sinead Drew, Mark Wheeler and the anonymous referees for their thoughtful and constructive comments on early drafts.

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Correspondence to James Windle.

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Windle, J., Briggs, D. ‘It’s like working away for two weeks’: The harms associated with young drug dealers commuting from a saturated London drug market. Crime Prev Community Saf 17, 105–119 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1057/cpcs.2015.2

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Keywords

  • gangs
  • drug markets
  • runaways
  • drug dealing
  • youth crime prevention
  • child welfare