John J. Wilson, Acting Administrator September 2000
Youth Gang Series

Preventing Adolescent Gang Involvement

Finn-Aage Esbensen

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 growth of youth gangs over the past few decades is a major cause for concern, particularly with the emergence of youth gangs in rural areas and cities without previous gang problems. While there are no simple solutions to ending the youth gang problem, this Bulletin provides the reader with information to better understand its complexity, while dispelling common gang stereotypes.

After describing the key characteristics of youth gangs, the Bulletin examines risk factors for gang membership, including individual and family demographics, personal attributes, and peer group, school, and community factors.

Gang prevention strategies are presented and illustrated with examples of primary, secondary, and tertiary prevention programs. Primary prevention targets the entire at-risk population, while secondary prevention focuses on those identified as being at greatest risk for delinquency. Finally, tertiary prevention efforts involve juvenile offenders and youth gang members.

In sum, this Bulletin offers a solid foundation on which to build a comprehensive strategy to prevent youth gang involvement, examining the youth gang problem within the larger context of juvenile violence.

John J. Wilson
Acting Administrator



Finn-Aage Esbensen, Ph.D., is Professor of Criminal Justice at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.

The author would like to thank G. David Curry, James C. Howell, Cheryl Maxson, and Terrance J. Taylor for their comments on earlier drafts of this Bulletin.

Photographs copyright 1999 Digital Vision Ltd., copyright 2000 Artville Stock Images, and copyright 2000 John Greim/West Stock.

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