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Introduction

Youth gang problems have grown significantly in the past 25 years (Miller, in press). During this period, both the number of cities with reported youth gang problems and the number of gang members have increased nearly 7 times, while the estimated number of youth gangs has increased more than 10 times (Miller, 1992; Moore, 1997; Moore and Terrett, 1998; Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, 1999; National Youth Gang Center, 1997). In the past few years, however, more recent surveys suggest that the percentage of jurisdictions with active youth gangs is decreasing slightly, from 53 percent in 1996 to 51 percent in 1997 to 48 percent in 1998 (Moore and Cook, 1999). The estimated number of gangs and gang members also decreased during this period (by 7 and 8 percent, respectively).

Without a clear understanding of why and how youth gangs form, preventing their formation is an intricate and challenging task. Gangs emerge, grow, dissolve, and disappear for reasons that are poorly understood. This lack of understanding impedes efforts to prevent gang emergence, disrupt existing gangs, and divert youth from them. Youth gang research must continue to address how gangs form, how existing gangs can be disrupted, and how youth can be diverted from joining gangs.

Evaluation of youth gang programs and strategies is an equally complex undertaking. Their effectiveness must be assessed not only in regard to the formation and dissolution of gangs and the diversion of youth from gangs, but also in regard to delinquency and crime prevention or reduction. Because each youth gang and each community is unique, finding similar groups and communities for comparison is difficult. Measurement problems also plague gang research. Because there is no commonly accepted definition of "youth gang," comparison of study results is problematic. Furthermore, because gang interventions are rarely based on theoretical assumptions, measurement of what these programs are attempting to accomplish is difficult. Most important, very few rigorous scientific evaluations have been undertaken.

Definition of "Youth Gang"

The term "youth gang" is commonly used interchangeably with "street gang," referring to neighborhood or street-based youth groups that meet "gang" criteria. However, the lines between youth gangs, street gangs, and organized criminal enterprises are often blurred (see Klein, 1995a). For the purposes of this review, Miller's (1992:21) definition of "youth gang" is applicable: "a self-formed association of peers, united by mutual interests, with identifiable leadership and internal organization, who act collectively or as individuals to achieve specific purposes, including the conduct of illegal activity and control of a particular territory, facility, or enterprise." Motorcycle gangs, prison gangs, racial supremacists, and other hate groups are excluded. Likewise, gangs whose membership is restricted to adults and that do not have the characteristics of youth gangs are excluded (see Curry and Decker, 1998). Unless otherwise noted, the term "gangs" as used in this Summary refers to youth gangs.



Table 1. Selected Gang Program Evaluations, 1936-99

ProgramStudyDesignType of InterventionResults
New York City Boys Club*Thrasher, 1936Descriptive and case studyPrevention—general delinquencyNegligible impact
Chicago Area Project (CAP)Kobrin, 1959; Schlossman and Sedlak, 1983Descriptive and case studyPrevention—community organizationIndeterminable
Midcity Project (Boston)Miller, 1962Field observation and quasi-experimentalPreventionócommunity organization, family service, and detached workerNegligible impact
Chicago Youth Development Project*Caplan et al., 1967; Gold and Mattick, 1974; Mattick and Caplan, 1962Quasi-experimental community comparisonPreventionódetached worker and community organizationNo differential impact
Chicago YMCA Program for Detached Workers*Short, 1963; Short and Strodtbeck, 1965Field observation and quasi-experimental observationPreventionódetached workerEarly results encouraging; no final results: evaluation suspended
Group Guidance Project (Los Angeles)Klein, 1969, 1971Quasi-experimentalPreventionódetached workerSignificant increase in gang delinquency
Ladino Hills Project (Los Angeles)Klein, 1968Quasi-experimentalPreventionódetached workerSignificant reduction in gang delinquency
Chicago Community Action Program (Woodlawn Organization)*Spergel, 1972; Spergel et al., 1969Descriptive statistical trendsSocial interventionIneffective
Wincroft Youth Project (U.K.)*Smith, Farrant, and Marchant, 1972Quasi-experimentalPreventionódetached workerNo differential impact
Gang Violence Reduction Program (California)Torres, 1981, 1985Quasi-experimentalSuppression and crisis interventionDeclines in gang homicides and intergang violence
House of Umoja (Philadelphia)Woodson, 1981, 1986Descriptive, case study, statistical trendsPrevention, crisis intervention, and social interventionEffected truce among warring gangs; effective sanctuary
Operation Hardcore (Los Angeles)Dahmann, 1981Quasi-experimentalSuppression (vertical prosecution)Successful gang prosecution process
San Diego Street Youth Program*Pennell, 1983Quasi-experimental community comparisonrPreventionódetached workerIndeterminable
Crisis Intervention Services Project (Chicago)Spergel, 1986Quasi-experimental community comparisonCrisis intervention and suppressionSome reduction in serious and violent crimes
Broader Urban Involvement and Leadership Development (Chicago)Thompson and Jason, 1988Quasi-experimental school comparisonPreventionódiscouraging adolescents from joining gangsMarginal reduction
Youth Gang Drug Prevention Program (Administration on Children, Youth, and Families)*Cohen et al., 1994Quasi-experimental treatment and control comparison (multiple sites)Preventionódiscouraging adolescents from joining gangs; community mobilizationLittle or no effect on gang involvement; some delinquency reduction
Aggression Replacement Training (Brooklyn)Goldstein and Glick, 1994; Goldstein, Glick, and Gibbs, 1998Quasi-experimental treatment and control comparisonSkills training, anger control, and moral educationPreliminary results positive with members of 10 gangs
Tri-Agency Resource Gang Enforcement Team (TARGET) (Orangese County, CA)Kent and Smith, 1995; Kent et al., 2000Quasi-experimentalSuppressionótargeting gang members for prosecution, supervision, and incarceration Successfully targeted hardcore gang members and showed serious crime reduction
The Neutral Zone (State of Washington)Thurman et al., 1996Direct observation, focus group, and crime statisticsPrevention and alternatives to gang involvementSome positive results (but see Fritsch, Caeti, and Taylor, 1999:26)
Montreal Preventive Treatment ProgramTremblay et al., 1996Longitudinal study from kindergarten; random assignmentPrevention via skills development (in pro-social skills and self-development)Reduced delinquency, drug use, and gang involvement
Little Village Gang Violence Reduction Program (Chicago)Spergel and Grossman, 1997; Spergel, Grossman, and Wa, 1998Quasi-experimental community comparisonSocial intervention and suppressionPositive results; best results with combined approach
Youth Gang Drug Intervention and Prevention Program for Female Adolescents* (Pueblo, CO; Boston, MA; and Seattle, WA)Curry, Williams, and Koenemann, 1997Quasi-experimentalPrevention and social interventionPueblo program showed positive results with culture-based programs for Mexican American females
Gang Resistance Education and Training Program (G.R.E.A.T.)Winfree, Esbensen, and Osgood, 1996; Esbensen and Osgood, 1997, 1999Quasi-experimental treatment and control comparison (multiple sites)Preventionódiscouraging adolescents from joining gangsModest reductions in gang affiliation and delinquency
Gang Resistance Education and Training Program (G.R.E.A.T.)Palumbo and Ferguson, 1995Quasi-experimental and use of a focus group (multiple sites, different from G.R.E.A.T. sites above)Preventionódiscouraging adolescents from joining gangsSmall effects on attitudes and gang resistance
Operation Cul-De-Sac (Los Angeles)Lasley, 1998Quasi-experimental before, during, and after comparisons with control areaSuppressionóusing traffic barriers to block gang mobilityGang homicides and assaults appeared to be reduced
Antigang Initiative (Dallas)Fritsch, Caeti, and Taylor, 1999Quasi-experimental; compared target and control areasSuppressionóusing saturation patrol, curfew, and truancy enforcementAggressive curfew and truancy enforcement appeared to be effective
* These programs are not described in the main body of the Summary.
Source: Adapted from Loeber and Farrington, 1998.

This Summary outlines programs and strategies that have been and are being used to break the lure and appeal of gangs and reduce gang crime and violence. Evaluations and national assessments of some of these programs are discussed, and an overview of what practitioners and administrators need to know before designing and implementing any gang program or strategy is provided. Although several gang programs have been evaluated (see table 1), only a few programs are presented here; information on others is available in Serious and Violent Juvenile Offenders: Risk Factors and Successful Interventions (Howell, 1998a) and in the Youth Gang Consortium Survey of Gang Programs.1


1 This information is available electronically at the National Youth Gang Center's (NYGC's) Web page, which can be accessed at www.iir.com/nygc/. The consortium consists of Federal, State, and local agency representatives. This survey, which does not necessarily list proven programs but ones that some agencies have implemented in response to gang problems, was conducted by NYGC on behalf of the Youth Gang Consortium. In addition to a description of consortium members' gang-related programs and funding levels, contact information is provided. Eight other publications are available that detail the history of youth gang programming, including what has not worked and why (Bursik and Grasmick, 1993; Conly, 1993; Curry and Decker, 1998; Goldstein and Huff, 1993; Howell, 1998a; Klein, 1995a; Spergel, 1995; and Needle and Stapleton, 1983).


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Youth Gang Programs and Strategies
OJJDP Summary
August 2000