Shay Bilchik, Administrator January 1999

Youth Gang SeriesThe Youth Gangs, Drugs, and Violence Connection

James C. Howell and Scott H. Decker


Historical Overview of Gang Drug Use and Trafficking

The Current Image of Youth Gangs

Studies of the Youth Gangs, Drugs, and Violence Connection


Policy and Program Implications


This Bulletin was prepared under cooperative agreement 95–JD–MU–K001 to the Institute for Intergovernmental Research from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, U.S. Department of Justice.

Points of view or opinions expressed in this document are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of OJJDP or the U.S. Department of Justice.

The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention is a component of the Office of Justice Programs, which also includes the Bureau of Justice Assistance, the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the National Institute of Justice, and the Office for Victims of Crime.


From the Administrator

The 1980’s saw an increase in youth
gang violence and the rise of the
crack cocaine epidemic. The public
linked these two developments, often
with implications of cause and effect.
Conventional wisdom, however, is
not always reliable. Viewed through
the lens of public perception rather
than that of scientific knowledge, the
relationships among youth gangs,
drugs, and violence are more often
talked about than understood. In The
Youth Gangs, Drugs, and Violence
, James Howell and Scott
Decker add to our understanding of
the interrelationships of these factors
and address relevant questions such
as the following:

“Is drug trafficking a main activity of
youth gangs?”

“Is drug trafficking a major cause of
violence in youth gangs?”

“Are there other important sources
of youth gang violence?”

The authors make critical distinctions
between drug gangs and street gangs
that further enhance our understanding
of the gang phenomenon, as does
their exploration of the connections
between youth gangs and adult
criminal organizations and the role
of firearms in gang violence.

It is my hope that in describing the
relationships among youth gangs,
drugs, and violence, this Bulletin will
help communities begin to address
these problems more effectively.

Shay Bilchik


NCJ 171152


James C. Howell is an Adjunct Researcher at the National Youth Gang Center,
Institute for Intergovernmental Research, Tallahassee, FL. Scott H. Decker is a
Professor and Chair of the Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice,
University of Missouri, St. Louis, MO. The authors are grateful to several persons
who reviewed earlier drafts and made very helpful suggestions for improvements
to this Bulletin: Bruce Buckley, Jim Burch, Cheryl Maxson, Walter Miller, Joan
Moore, John Moore, and Jim Short, Jr.

All photographs © 1998 PhotoDisc, Inc.

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