Photo - TeensSpace limitations here preclude extensive discussion of program options.8 Although no program has been demonstrated through rigorous evaluation (of which there has been little) to be effective in preventing or reducing serious and violent youth gang delinquency, a number of promising strategies are available.

Preventing children and adolescents from joining gangs appears be the most cost-effective long-term strategy. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms has implemented a school-based gang prevention curriculum, Gang Resistance Education and Training (G.R.E.A.T.). Evaluation has shown positive preliminary results (Esbensen and Osgood, 1997). Students who completed the G.R.E.A.T. program reported lower levels of gang affiliation and self-reported delinquency, including drug use, minor offending, property crimes, and crimes against persons. Further evaluation will determine the effectiveness of this program.

The Comprehensive Community-Wide Approach to Gang Prevention, Intervention, and Suppression Program, developed by Spergel and his colleagues (Spergel et al., 1994; see also Thornberry and Burch, 1997), contains 12 program components for the design and mobilization of community efforts by police, prosecutors, judges, probation and parole officers, corrections officers, school officials, employers, community-based agency staff such as street outreach workers, and a range of grassroots organization staff. Variations of this model are currently being implemented and tested in five sites under OJJDP support.

An early pilot of this model, the Gang Violence Reduction Program, has been implemented in Chicago. Preliminary evaluation results (after 3 years of program operations) are positive (Spergel and Grossman, 1997; see also Thornberry and Burch, 1997). Positive results include a lower level of serious gang violence among the targeted gangs than among comparable gangs in the area. There also is noted improvement in residents' perceptions of gang crime and police effectiveness in dealing with that crime. In addition, there are fewer arrests for serious gang crimes (especially aggravated batteries and aggravated assaults) by members of targeted gangs as compared with control youth from the same gangs and members of other gangs in Chicago. The project also was able to hasten the departure of youth from the gang while reducing their involvement in violence and other crimes (Spergel, Grossman, and Wa, 1998). These results are attributed to the project's coordinated approach combining community mobilization, suppression, and social intervention, which appears to be more effective than the traditional, mainly suppression-oriented, approach.

Studies reviewed in this Bulletin show that many serious, violent, and chronic offenders are gang members, at least at some point during adolescence. Thus, it is important for the juvenile and criminal justice systems to target gang offenders. Targeting gang members for graduated sanctions (including priority arrest, adjudication, vertical prosecution,9 intensive probation supervision, incarceration, and transfer to the criminal justice system) can also be accomplished by implementing OJJDP's Comprehensive Strategy for Serious, Violent, and Chronic Juvenile Offenders (Howell, 1995; Wilson and Howell, 1993).

One successful intervention that can be implemented in such a comprehensive strategy is the Tri-Agency Resource Gang Enforcement Team (TARGET), which supports gang interdiction, apprehension, and prosecution. This California program integrates and coordinates the work of the Westminster Police Department, the Orange County District Attorney, and the County Probation Department (Capizzi, Cook, and Schumacher, 1995). The Gang Incident Tracking System (GITS) identifies and tracks gang members, providing the information base for the TARGET program. TARGET uses intelligence gathering and information sharing to identify and select appropriate gang members and gangs for intervention.

Police should not be expected to assume sole responsibility for gang problems, yet gang suppression remains the predominant strategy that jurisdictions use to deal with gangs. Suppression tactics have recently been expanded in three ways:

Bullet State laws increasing criminal sanctions for gang crime and gang involvement and local ordinances and enforcement of specific criminal codes that restrict gang activities.
Bullet Multiagency and multijurisdictional strategies bringing together several law enforcement agencies in a collective approach.
Bullet Collaborative approaches tying together all sectors of the community.

A gang suppression model, the Boston Gun Project (Clark, 1997; Kennedy, Piehl, and Braga, 1996), is employing a coerced use-reduction strategy targeting gun violence involving gang members. To carry out its deterrence strategy, the Boston Police Department's Youth Violence Strike Force, through Operation Nite Lite, uses probation and police officers who patrol the streets in teams to identify gang members, enforce conditions of probation, and increase sanctions for probation and parole violations. Evaluation results are not yet available, although gun homicide victimization among 14- to 24-year-olds in the city is reported to have fallen by two-thirds after the project began (Kennedy, 1997), including a 27-month period in which no juvenile homicide occurred (Harden, 1997). Because homicides were dropping nationwide among this age group when the project began, the evaluation will compare Boston's homicide trends to a sample of other cities.

Communities should organize a collaborative approach to gang problems from the outset rather than beginning with a predominantly suppression strategy.

The program model that proves to be most effective is likely to contain multiple components, incorporating prevention, social intervention, rehabilitation, suppression, and community mobilization approaches, supported by a management information system and rigorous program evaluation.

Community responses must begin with a thorough assessment of the specific characteristics of the gangs themselves, crimes they commit, other problems they present, and the localities they affect. Other Bulletins in this series (Howell, in press) provide guidance to communities in assessing their potential gang problems and in crafting solutions. Principles for effective gang strategies are provided, along with promising and effective program models.

  1. See Howell (1998) for a detailed historical review of program evaluations.

  2. The prosecutor who files a case remains responsible for it throughout the prosecution process.

Youth Gangs: An Overview Juvenile Justice Bulletin   ·  August 1998