Based on a literature review, this paper discusses the target population for gang prevention programs, the lack of a standard definition of the term "gang," the nature of criminal gang activity, the theoretical foundation for gang prevention programs, types of gang prevention and intervention programs, and outcome evidence from evaluations of such programs.
Self-report studies are consistent in finding that the peak age range for gang membership is approximately 14-15 years old (Huff, 1998). Although female gang membership may be increasing, virtually all studies have found that males join gangs at higher rates. Although the research literature on gangs has increased substantially over the past decades, a standard definition of "gang" has not received consensus among researchers. The variety of features that can be incorporated in defining gangs are discussed. Regarding gang activity, there is sufficient evidence that gang members tend to commit a disproportionate number of criminal offenses compared to non-gang persons. The research shows, however, that gang members do not necessarily specialize in violence. Their criminal behavior spans various types of offenses. The most important questions to be answered in designing gang prevention and intervention programs is why individuals join gangs and why they desist from gang activities. These issues are discussed. As youth seek both independence from parents and acceptance from their peers, gangs provide a sense of belonging among peers and freedom from the parental constraints of childhood. Gang prevention and intervention programs can be grouped into three categories: prevention (persuade youth not to join gangs), intervention (enable gang members to dissociate from gangs), and suppression (apply law enforcement measures effectively). Strategies of prevention ad intervention programs are discussed. A review of evaluations of such programs indicates that suppression has been the dominant response to gangs; however, it is the least effective in countering gang membership and gang criminal activities. Web links are provided for eight gang prevention and intervention programs that have produced some positive impacts on gang issues. 36 references
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Date Published: April 1, 2014
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