Survey Methods (continued)

Demographic Factors

Gender. Females represented a smaller proportion of gang members in jurisdictions that reported gang member involvement in drug sales and gang control of drug distribution. Although they were only slightly less prevalent in jurisdictions that reported high levels of gang member involvement in drug sales, they were significantly less likely to be members of gangs that controlled drug distribution. In the 12 jurisdictions11 that reported gang control of all of the drug distribution and also reported the gender of gang members, females represented only 6 percent of gang members, compared with a national average of 11 percent (National Youth Gang Center, 1999a).12 Conversely, in jurisdictions that reported no gang control of drug distribution, females represented almost 15 percent of gang members.

Age. Regardless of the extent of gang member involvement in drug sales, respondents estimated that the largest proportion of their gang members were juveniles (ages 15 to 17) (see table 1).13 However, the prevalence of gang members age 18 and older increased in jurisdictions in which the level of gang member involvement in drug sales was "moderate" or "high." There tended to be fewer gang members ages 15 to 17 in these jurisdictions.

A more distinct age-related pattern was observed with respect to gang-controlled drug distribution (see table 2). Respondents who said gangs controlled none of the drug distribution estimated that 79 percent of their gang members were juveniles (age 17 or younger). In contrast, in the 12 jurisdictions that reported gang control of all drug distribution and also reported the age of gang members,14 respondents estimated that 42 percent of their gang members were juveniles and that 58 percent were young adults (age 18 and older). Thus, on average, the prevalence of young adult gang members increased significantly as gang control of drug distribution increased.

Table 1: Level of Gang Member Involvement in Drug Sales, by Age of Gang Members (Unweighted)

Table 2: Level of Gang Control of Drug Distribution, by Age of Gang Members (Unweighted)

The average age of gang members also was affected by population characteristics in jurisdictions that responded to the two questions about drug trafficking. In the largest jurisdictions (those with populations of 250,000 or more), gangs consisted of approximately equal proportions of juveniles and young adults. Two age-related trends were observed in smaller jurisdictions. The percentage of juvenile gang members increased significantly, while the percentage of young adult gang members decreased significantly as population size decreased.

In sum, age varied more significantly with gang control of drug distribution than with gang member involvement in drug sales. Older gang members appear to be much more involved in drug distribution than with drug sales. A significant age shift was also observed with respect to population size. Gang members age 18 and older were significantly more involved in both the sale and distribution of drugs in larger jurisdictions.

Race/Ethnicity. Table 3 shows that Caucasian and Hispanic gang members were significantly more prevalent in jurisdictions with low levels of gang member involvement in drug sales (0-33 percent) and that African American gang members were significantly more prevalent in jurisdictions with high levels of gang member involvement in drug sales (67-100 percent).15 At the low level of drug sales, 23 percent of gang members were African American, 34 percent were Hispanic, and 34 percent were Caucasian. In contrast, at the high level of drug sales, 50 percent of gang members were African American, 24 percent were Hispanic, and 22 percent were Caucasian.

African American gang members were most prevalent in jurisdictions reporting high levels of gang control of drug distribution (see table 4). Their proportion increased from 18 percent in jurisdictions reporting no gang control of drug distribution to 59 percent in the 14 jurisdictions reporting gang control of all drug distribution and also reporting the race/ethnicity of gang members.16 Other racial/ethnic groups were significantly more prevalent in jurisdictions reporting a low degree of gang control of drug distribution. For example, in jurisdictions reporting gang control of less than one-fourth of drug distribution, 36 percent of gang members were Caucasian, and in jurisdictions reporting gang control of all drug distribution, only 18 percent were Caucasian. The same pattern was evident for Hispanics and Asians.

In sum, the greater the prevalence of African American gang members in the jurisdiction, the larger the proportion of drug sales accounted for by gang members and the greater the extent of gang control of drug distribution. The opposite pattern was observed for all other racial/ethnic groups, except for "others,"17 whose prevalence did not change significantly.

Table 3: Level of Gang Member Involvement in Drug Sales, byRace/Ethnicity of Gang Members (Unweighted)

Table 4: Level of Gang Control of Drug Distribution, by Race/Ethnicity of Gang Members (Unweighted)

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Youth Gang Drug Trafficking Juvenile Justice Bulletin   ·  December 1999