Background and Data Source

The 1996 National Youth Gang Survey2 (NYGC, 1999a) asked respondents who reported the presence of a youth gang problem: “In approximately what year did gangs begin to pose a problem in your jurisdiction?” The average year of onset3 was 1989 for larger cities (populations of 25,000 or more), 1990 for suburban counties, 1992 for smaller cities, and 1993 for rural counties. Of course, a number of jurisdictions said their gang problem began much earlier—84 jurisdictions (including 63 larger cities) said their gang problem began before 1981, and 72 (including 54 larger cities) said their problem began between 1981 and 1985. Of all jurisdictions that responded to the year-of-onset question in 1996, 53 percent reported onset during 1991–96 (20 percent in 1991–92, 25 percent in 1993–94, and 8 percent in 1995–96), 33 percent during 1986– 90, 6 percent during 1981–85, and 8 percent before 1981.

The analysis reported in this Bulletin compares the characteristics of gangs and gang members in jurisdictions with later (1991–96) versus earlier (before 1991) onset of gang problems. Where appropriate, comparisons are also made between jurisdictions with latest (1995– 96) and earliest (before 1981) onset. All of the data are unweighted and thus do not represent national estimates.4

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Modern-Day Youth Gangs Juvenile Justice Bulletin June 2002