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
* These programs are not described in the main body of the Summary.
|Program||Study||Design||Type of Intervention||Results|
|New York City Boys Club*||Thrasher, 1936||Descriptive and case study||Preventiongeneral delinquency||Negligible impact|
|Chicago Area Project (CAP)||Kobrin, 1959; Schlossman and Sedlak, 1983||Descriptive and case study||Preventioncommunity organization||Indeterminable|
|Midcity Project (Boston)||Miller, 1962||Field observation and quasi-experimental||Preventionócommunity organization, family service,
and detached worker||Negligible impact|
|Chicago Youth Development Project*||Caplan et al., 1967; Gold and Mattick, 1974; Mattick and Caplan, 1962||Quasi-experimental community comparison||Preventionódetached worker and community organization||No differential impact|
|Chicago YMCA Program for Detached Workers*||Short, 1963; Short and Strodtbeck, 1965||Field observation and quasi-experimental observation||Preventionódetached worker||Early results encouraging; no final results: evaluation suspended|
|Group Guidance Project (Los Angeles)||Klein, 1969, 1971||Quasi-experimental||Preventionódetached worker||Significant increase in gang delinquency|
|Ladino Hills Project (Los Angeles)||Klein, 1968||Quasi-experimental||Preventionódetached worker||Significant reduction in gang delinquency|
|Chicago Community Action Program (Woodlawn Organization)*||Spergel, 1972; Spergel et al., 1969||Descriptive statistical trends||Social intervention||Ineffective|
|Wincroft Youth Project (U.K.)*||Smith, Farrant, and Marchant, 1972||Quasi-experimental||Preventionódetached worker||No differential impact|
|Gang Violence Reduction Program (California)||Torres, 1981, 1985||Quasi-experimental||Suppression and crisis intervention||Declines in gang homicides and intergang violence|
|House of Umoja (Philadelphia)||Woodson, 1981, 1986||Descriptive, case study, statistical trends||Prevention, crisis intervention, and social intervention||Effected truce among warring gangs; effective sanctuary|
|Operation Hardcore (Los Angeles)||Dahmann, 1981||Quasi-experimental||Suppression (vertical prosecution)||Successful gang prosecution process|
|San Diego Street Youth Program*||Pennell, 1983||Quasi-experimental community comparisonr||Preventionódetached worker||Indeterminable|
|Crisis Intervention Services Project (Chicago)||Spergel, 1986||Quasi-experimental community comparison||Crisis intervention and suppression||Some reduction in serious and violent crimes|
|Broader Urban Involvement and Leadership Development (Chicago)||Thompson and Jason, 1988||Quasi-experimental school comparison||Preventionódiscouraging adolescents from joining gangs||Marginal reduction|
|Youth Gang Drug Prevention Program (Administration on Children, Youth, and Families)*||Cohen et al., 1994||Quasi-experimental treatment and control comparison (multiple sites)||Preventionódiscouraging adolescents from joining gangs; community mobilization||Little or no effect on gang involvement; some delinquency reduction|
|Aggression Replacement Training (Brooklyn)||Goldstein and Glick, 1994; Goldstein, Glick, and Gibbs, 1998||Quasi-experimental treatment and control comparison||Skills training, anger control, and moral education||Preliminary results positive with members of 10 gangs|
|Tri-Agency Resource Gang Enforcement Team (TARGET) (Orangese County, CA)||Kent and Smith, 1995; Kent et al., 2000||Quasi-experimental||Suppressionótargeting 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., 1996||Direct observation, focus group, and crime statistics||Prevention and alternatives to gang involvement||Some positive results (but see Fritsch, Caeti, and Taylor, 1999:26)|
|Montreal Preventive Treatment Program||Tremblay et al., 1996||Longitudinal study from kindergarten; random assignment||Prevention 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, 1998||Quasi-experimental community comparison||Social intervention and suppression||Positive 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, 1997||Quasi-experimental||Prevention and social intervention||Pueblo 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, 1999||Quasi-experimental treatment and control comparison (multiple sites)||Preventionódiscouraging adolescents from joining gangs||Modest reductions in gang affiliation and delinquency|
|Gang Resistance Education and Training Program (G.R.E.A.T.)||Palumbo and Ferguson, 1995||Quasi-experimental and use of a focus group (multiple sites, different from G.R.E.A.T. sites above)||Preventionódiscouraging adolescents from joining gangs||Small effects on attitudes and gang resistance|
|Operation Cul-De-Sac (Los Angeles)||Lasley, 1998||Quasi-experimental before, during, and after comparisons with control area||Suppressionóusing traffic barriers to block gang mobility||Gang homicides and assaults appeared to be reduced|
|Antigang Initiative (Dallas)||Fritsch, Caeti, and Taylor, 1999||Quasi-experimental; compared target and control areas||Suppressionóusing saturation patrol, curfew, and truancy enforcement||Aggressive curfew and truancy enforcement appeared to be effective|
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).
Gang Programs and Strategies