Line
Prevention Programs

The history of gang intervention in the United States shows that early programs emphasized prevention (Shaw, 1930; Shaw and McKay, 1931; Thrasher, 1927, 1936). Prevention programs typically attempt to prevent youth from joining gangs, but might also seek to interrupt gang formation. A variety of strategies have been employed to prevent youth involvement in gangs, including community organization, improving conditions for youth, early childhood programs, school-based programs, and local clubs and afterschool programs.

Community Organization

The Chicago Area Project (CAP) (Sorrentino, 1959; Sorrentino and Whittaker, 1994), created in 1934, was designed to implement "social disorganization" theories suggesting that community organization could be a major tool for reducing crime and gang problems. CAP was designed to involve local community groups in improving neighborhood conditions, such as the lack of supervised recreation and afterschool programs, that were believed to foster the formation of youth gangs.

CAP was the first program to initiate use of detached workers. Program activities included recreation, community self-renewal, mediation, and advocacy before government agencies and staff, especially school, probation, and parole officials (Schlossman and Sedlak, 1983). Claims of CAP's success continue to be publicized despite the absence of empirical evaluation results. The program is still operating, a clear indication of its perceived value among Chicago officials and community groups.

Another community-based gang program that, like CAP, relies on indigenous community organizations was established much later. The House of Umoja began operating in Philadelphia during the 1970's as a unique grassroots program initiated by community residents David and Falaka Fattah (National Center for Neighborhood Enterprise, 1999; see also Woodson, 1981, 1986, 1998). Using their own resources and their home as a base of operations, they created this family-centered community institution that effectively mediated gang conflicts and came to serve as a source of counsel and individual development for neighborhood gang and nongang youth. The family model "provides a sense of belonging, identity, and self-worth that was previously sought through gang membership" (National Center for Neighborhood Enterprise, 1999:59). Through reparenting2 and providing role models, the House of Umoja has "successfully transformed more than five hundred frightened, frustrated, and alienated young minority males into self-assured, competent, concerned, and productive citizens" (National Center for Neighborhood Enterprise, 1999:16). The National Center for Neighborhood Enterprise (NCNE) has identified eight characteristics associated with the House of Umoja's success (National Center for Neighborhood Enterprise, 1999):

  • A family-centered organization that acts as youth's primary human support system and is based on a participatory model of decisionmaking.

  • A process of socialization in which at-risk youth develop strong, healthy identities and may even earn the name Fattah, after the House of Umoja's initiators.

  • The Adella, a mechanism for conflict resolution and problem solving that requires full participation of all members.

  • Individual learning to organize personal time and space.

  • An emphasis on the importance of work and a redefinition of the meaning of work associated with virtue.

  • An emphasis on service to others.

  • A spiritual or ideological context expressed in common familial rituals.

  • Leadership training and development.

Improving Conditions and Creating Opportunities

Efforts to prevent youth gang involvement have long been part of community-based youth service programs. Albuquerque's Youth Development, Inc. (YDI), provides comprehensive services for at-risk youth and others involved in the juvenile justice system (Carnegie Council on Adolescent Development, 1994). YDI's Gang Prevention and Intervention Program is directed toward preventing initial gang involvement among younger teenagers and providing constructive, nonviolent activities for current gang members. In a structured 7-week program, gang members become involved in community service, learn nonviolent conflict resolution skills, obtain employment and legal assistance, and receive counseling with family members.

Inner-City Games (ICG) is another urban program that provides alternatives to gang life (Gates, 1998). Licensed by the National Inner-City Games Foundation and chaired by Arnold Schwarzenegger, ICG provides opportunities for inner-city youth to participate in athletic, educational, cultural, and community-enrichment programs. The program enables youth to build confidence and self-esteem and encourages them to say "no" to gangs, drugs, and violence and "yes" to hope, learning, and life. Originally assisting youth only in East Los Angeles, ICG now operates in 12 cities, serving more than 1 million young people.

Other programs for improving economic conditions and individual opportunities in gang-ridden neighborhoods include community reconstruction (Eisenhower Foundation, 1990), Empowerment Zones (revitalizing communities through economic and social services), and Enterprise Communities (promoting physical and human development). Supported by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Empowerment Zones and Enterprise Communities are large-scale programs that seek to reconstruct selected inner-city areas (Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, 1995b).

The following are descriptions of three programs designed to prevent gang problems in particularly low-income areas and public housing projects:

  • The Beethoven Project in Chicago's Robert Taylor Homes (Center for Successful Child Development, 1993) was designed to ensure a head start for mothers and their infants by providing a variety of health and social services, mainly through a family drop-in center (Short, 1996).

  • The Neutral Zone (Thurman et al., 1996), a recreation/services facility operating in several communities in the State of Washington, offers high-risk youth, many of whom may be involved in gangs, a safe alternative to being out on the streets late at night.

  • The Community Outreach Program (Kodluboy and Evenrud, 1993), a St. Paul, MN, Police Department program, includes prompt diversion of first-time offenders and school liaison work in the city's Southeast Asian community, which has become affected by gangs.

The neighborhood block watch also appears to be a useful community crime prevention technique for public housing projects and other neighborhoods (Lindsay and McGillis, 1986; Rosenbaum, Lewis, and Grant, 1986). Other community-based initiatives that help prevent gang involvement include manhood development (culturally specific mentoring that matches youth with adult role models) (Watts, 1991), neighborhood youth centers (e.g., Nuestro Centro, see Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, 1995a), the use of gang members in outreach efforts (e.g., Comin' Up, City of Fort Worth, TX, 1996; see Curry, 1995), and the Community Reclamation Project (1990), which demonstrated how to establish an ongoing, integrated network of community-based organizations, agencies, and citizens that would effectively combat emerging gang problems.

Early Childhood Programs

Battin-Pearson and colleagues (1999:20) concluded that "once in a gang, those youths who are most behaviorally and socially maladjusted in childhood are most likely to remain in a gang for multiple years." The Seattle study (Hill et al., 1999) identified a variety of childhood risk factors that, if present between the ages of 10 and 12, are predictive of gang membership during adolescence (see table 2). Clearly, prevention efforts should begin early.

The Montreal Preventive Treatment Program (Tremblay et al., 1996) illustrates how multiple-component prevention programs can effectively address early childhood risk factors for gang involvement. This program was designed to prevent antisocial behavior among boys of low socioeconomic status who displayed disruptive problem behavior in kindergarten. By incorporating an approach focused on risk and protective factors, it demonstrated that a combination of parent training and childhood skills development can steer antisocial children away from gangs. Parent training was combined with individual social skills training for boys ages 7 to 9. Parents received an average of 17 training sessions that focused on monitoring their children's behavior, giving positive reinforcement for prosocial behavior, using punishment effectively, and managing family crises. The boys received 19 training sessions to improve pro-social skills and self-control. The training was implemented in small groups containing both disruptive and nondisruptive boys and used coaching, peer modeling, self-instruction, reinforcement contingencies, and role-playing to build skills. An evaluation of the program showed both short- and long-term gains, including less delinquency, substance use, and gang involvement at age 15 (Tremblay et al., 1996).

Other early childhood development programs combined with parent training have proven effective in preventing involvement in delinquency and crime into early adulthood, although they were not tested for the prevention of gang involvement. The High/Scope Perry Preschool Project (Schweinhart, Barnes, and Weikart, 1993) and the Syracuse University Family Development Research Project (Lally, Mangione, and Honig, 1988) have been shown to be effective in reducing severe and chronic delinquency in long-term followups, although High/Scope was far more cost effective (Aos et al., 1999). High/Scope sought to prevent school failure in poor, African American 3- and 4-year-olds. Children were enrolled in preschool, and their teachers conducted home visits to inform parents of the child's activities and to promote parental involvement in his or her educational experience.

Table 2. Risk Factors at Ages 1012 for Subsequent Gang Membership, Seattle, WA
Potential Childhood Risk FactorMembership Prevalence*Odds Ratio for Those at High Risk

Neighborhood
Availability of marijuana
Neighborhood youth in trouble
Low neighborhood attachment

Family
Poverty (low household income)
One parent in home
One parent and other adults in home
No parents in home
Parental alcohol intake
Sibling antisocial behavior
Poor family management
Parental proviolent attitudes
Low attachment to parents

School
Low academic aspirations
Low school commitment
Low school attachment
Low academic achievement in elementary school
Identified as learning disabled

Peer
Association with peers who engage in problem behaviors

Individual
Low religious service attendance
Antisocial beliefs
Respondent drinking
Respondent marijuana initiation
Violence

Personality/Individual Difference
Externalizing
Internalizing
Hyperactivity
Poor refusal skills

 

  30%
26
20

 
  23%
21
25
24
15
22
21
26
20

 
  20%
21
23
28
36

 
  26%

 
  15%
23
20
37
28

 
  26%
19
21
23

 

3.6
3.0
1.5

 
2.1
2.4
3.0
2.9
1.0
1.9
1.7
2.3
1.5

 
1.6
1.8
2.0
3.1
3.6

 
2.0

 
1.0
2.1
1.6
3.7
3.1

 
2.6
1.4
1.7
1.8

* For each risk factor, this column shows gang membership prevalence (the percentage of youth joining a gang) among youth who had scored in the worst quarter on the risk factor at ages 1012.
Source: Hill et al., 1999.

In addition, parental support and information exchange services were made available. The Syracuse University project delivered services (including educational, nutritional, health, safety, and human service resources) to pregnant mothers and to mothers with children who had not yet reached elementary school (children under age 5). Childcare was provided while trained home visitors made weekly visits.

School-Based Programs

Gang presence in schools is increasing. Students bring preexisting gang conflicts to the school setting, and new conflicts are created when opposing gang members come into contact with one another. Two nationwide student surveys show that between 1989 and 1995, the proportion of students reporting that street gangs were present in their schools nearly doubled (Chandler et al., 1998). More than a third (37 percent) reported gang presence in their schools in 1995 (Howell and Lynch, in press).

Goldstein and Kodluboy (1998) suggest that programs in school settings must, at a minimum, include three types of strategies:

  • In-school safety and control procedures (see also Trump, 1998).

  • In-school enrichment procedures that make the school experience more meaningful, effective, and enjoyable (see also Howell and Hawkins, 1998).

  • Formal links to community-based programs.

Goldstein and Kodluboy (1998) also assert that gang initiatives in schools should be research based, data driven, and outcome focused. A comprehensive assessment of school-related gang problems and school safety issues should be made in conjunction with an assessment of risk factors for gang involvement and delinquency in the surrounding community. Communities should not move into the program development stage before these important steps are completed, because a sound base of research and data are needed for effective program development. Kodluboy and Evenrud (1993) suggest that school-focused gang programs be developed in collaboration with community agencies. These programs should:

  • Share the common mission and objectives of the school and school district.

  • Be public and accountable.

  • Be based on the established standards of the profession or social service agency involved.

  • Have specific, written projected outcomes.

  • Have reasonable timelines for attaining the projected outcomes and meeting commitments.

  • Monitor progress toward individual agency objectives, using simple, direct measures.

  • Be subject to external review.

  • Demonstrate social validity through broad-based community involvement of all interested parties, such as businesses, neighborhood representatives, and others.

  • Be free of cultural bias and consistent with prevailing prosocial community goals and norms.

Examples of School-Based Programs

Goldstein and Kodluboy (1998) describe a number of programs with which schools might develop links:


Coordinated efforts that link school, police, probation, and other agencies also need to be attentive to restrictions on information sharing and exceptions to those restrictions under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (20 U.S.C. § 1232g). This Federal law governs the disclosure of information from education records.3

The following paragraphs describe a variety of promising school-based gang prevention programs.

PASSPORT. A unique program designed to protect children from gangs, Parents and Schools Succeeding in Providing Organized Routes to Travel (PASSPORT) is a joint effort of the Visalia, CA, school district, the police department, parents, and community organizations (Arnette and Walsleben, 1998). Students use supervised routes when traveling to and from school in high-crime or gang-oriented areas. Parents are provided with maps designating these recommended routes. Police routinely patrol—and school administrators and the safe school coordinator also monitor and walk—PASSPORT communities and routes. Parent volunteers stand in front of their homes and "just watch" during specified hours. Fights, intimidating behaviors, and unsafe activities are immediately reported to the nearest school or to other appropriate agencies. Media publicity about PASSPORT encourages all citizens to watch over schoolchildren to ensure their safe passage to and from school. The program depends on cooperative volunteer efforts. Actual dollar costs are minimal.

Antibullying programs. Bullying at school may be a contributor to joining gangs. The need for protection is a major reason gang members cite for joining a gang (Decker and Van Winkle, 1996). Students who report the presence of gangs and weapons in school are about twice as likely to report having been victims of a violent crime (e.g., physical attack, robbery, or bullying) (Chandler et al., 1998). Antibullying school programs may have the added benefit of preventing gang victimization. Olweus (1992) conducted a successful school antibullying program in Bergen, Norway, that consisted of four program components:

  • A booklet for school personnel was distributed to all Bergen comprehensive schools (grades 1 to 9). It described bully/victim problems, provided suggestions about what teachers and the school could do to counteract and prevent such problems, and dispelled myths about the nature and causes of bullying.

  • An information packet was distributed to all families in Bergen with school-age children. It contained information on bullying and advice for parents on how to address it.

  • A videocassette that depicted episodes from the daily lives of two early adolescent bullying victims was made available for purchase or rent at a subsidized price.

  • A brief anonymous questionnaire about bullying problems was administered to students in all comprehensive schools, the results of which were used to inform school and family interventions.

An evaluation of the Bergen program showed that the prevalence of bullying victims decreased substantially (Olweus, 1991, 1992). In 1992, Smith and Sharp (1994) implemented a similar program for schools in Sheffield, England. The core program involved establishing an antibullying policy for the entire school, increasing awareness, and clearly defining roles and responsibilities of teachers and students, so that everyone knew what bullying was and what they should do about it. Evaluation proved the program to be successful in reducing bullying among young children; the program had relatively small effects on older children. However, an adaptation of the Olweus model for use in rural middle schools in South Carolina did not significantly decrease the rate of bullying (Melton et al., 1998).

Se Puede. The Se Puede ("You Can") program in San Juan, TX, operates in a tricity area (Alamo, Pharr, and San Juan) that has about 5,000 gang members (Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, 1999). It seeks to prevent at-risk middle school youth from becoming involved with gangs, gun violence, and drugs and to improve their academic performance by providing:

  • Individual and group counseling.

  • Positive alternatives and role models in a voluntary 1-year program.

  • A curriculum component, Project Hart, that combines principles and skills for preventing substance abuse and violence in weekly culturally sensitive lessons.

  • Monthly weekend camping experiences in which small groups of students learn survival skills and develop relationships with mentors.

An evaluation of the Se Peude program showed a decrease in gang involvement among participating students despite an increase in the number of gangs in the tricity area during the program period. In addition, Se Puede program participants showed a decrease on several measures of crime involvement and improved individual skills and school performance (Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, 1999).

Gang Resistance Is Paramount. In an attempt to curb gang membership and discourage future gang involvement, the city of Paramount, CA, initiated the Gang Resistance Is Paramount (G.R.I.P.) program (Arnette and Walsleben, 1998). The program includes three major components. The first involves neighborhood meetings that provide parents with support, assistance, and resources as they try to prevent their children from joining gangs. The second component comprises a 15-week course for fifth grade students and a 10-week course for second grade students. The lessons deal with graffiti, peer pressure, tattoos, the impact of gang activity on family members, drug abuse, and alternative activities and opportunities. Finally, a school-based followup program is implemented at the ninth grade level to reinforce what children learned in the elementary grades. The program is designed to build self-esteem and also focuses on the consequences of a criminal lifestyle, the benefits of higher education, and future career opportunities. Three studies conducted by Paramount's Community Services and Recreation department show significant program effects in terms of youth developing negative attitudes toward gangs and staying out of them. In a long-term followup, 96 percent of more than 3,000 program participants were not identified as gang members in police records (Arnette and Walsleben, 1998).

Gang Resistance Education and Training Program. Discouraging children and young adolescents from joining gangs may be the most cost-effective approach to reducing serious youth and adult gang crime (National Drug Intelligence Center, 1994). Evaluation of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms' (ATF's) Gang Resistance Education and Training (G.R.E.A.T.) Program curriculum has shown positive preliminary results in this regard (Esbensen and Osgood, 1997). G.R.E.A.T. is "built on the strategy of delivering a simple, low-intensity program to as large a population as possible" (Esbensen and Osgood, 1999:218). The G.R.E.A.T. curriculum is administered in a school-based program in which uniformed law enforcement officers teach a 9-week course to middle school students (Esbensen and Osgood, 1997, 1999; Lesce, 1993). The curriculum includes the following components:

  • Introduction—students are introduced to G.R.E.A.T. and the presenting officer.

  • Crime/Victims and Your Rights—students learn about crimes, their victims, and their impact on the school and neighborhood.

  • Cultural Sensitivity/Prejudice—students are taught how cultural differences affect their school and neighborhood.

  • Conflict Resolution—students learn how to create an atmosphere of understanding that will enable all parties to better address interpersonal problems and work together on solutions.

  • Meeting Basic Needs—students are taught how to satisfy their basic social needs without joining a gang.

  • Drugs/Neighborhoods—students learn how drugs affect their school and neighborhood.

  • Responsibility—students learn about the diverse responsibilities of people in their school and neighborhood.

  • Goal Setting—students are taught the need for personal goal setting and ways to establish short-and long-term goals.

In followup surveys conducted between 12 and 18 months after completion of the program, students reported lower levels than before of gang affiliation and delinquency, including drug use, minor offending, property crimes, and crimes against persons (Esbensen and Osgood, 1997, 1999). Compared with the control group, the treatment group reported fewer delinquent friends, more positive attitudes toward the police, more negative attitudes about gangs, more friends involved in prosocial activities, greater commitment to peers promoting prosocial behavior, higher self-esteem, more commitment to success at school, higher levels of attachment to both mothers and fathers, and less likelihood of acting impulsively. The authors of the study cautioned that the positive program results were modest: "Clearly, this program is not a 'silver bullet' or a panacea for gang violence" (Esbensen and Osgood, 1999:217). A longitudinal evaluation that will assess long-term effects of the program is under way. Because of the limited positive effects, ATF is redesigning the G.R.E.A.T. curriculum to make it more effective.

The effectiveness of prevention curriculums might be enhanced by combining them with an afterschool program such as Nuestro Centro (a community-run youth center that provides an afterschool program for youth affected by drugs, gangs, and delinquency) (Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, 1995a) or an antibullying program (Olweus, 1992). School-based programs should include a gang intervention component because gang-related crime has been shown to escalate and peak earlier in the school day than other violent juvenile crime (Wiebe, Meeker, and Vila, in press).

Evaluation of school-based programs. An OJJDP-funded National Study of School-Based Gang Prevention and Intervention Programs is in progress. It builds on a large-scale National Study of Delinquency Prevention in Schools (Gottfredson and Gottfredson, 1996). The OJJDP study makes use of a nationally representative sample of 1,287 schools surveyed in the national prevention study. Two-thirds of the schools (66 percent) provided information on gang prevention and intervention programs in categories supplied by the researchers (e.g., prevention curriculum, mentoring, tutoring) (Gottfredson and Gottfredson, 1999). School "activity coordinators" were asked for more detailed information on school gang programs. Current school programs will be compared with "best practices." Teachers and students also were surveyed to obtain reports of problem behavior and participation in gang prevention and intervention programs. These data are being analyzed and reports are forthcoming. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is supporting the implementation and evaluation of 13 violence prevention programs, many of which are based in school and some of which address gang violence (Powell and Hawkins, 1996).

Afterschool Activities

Gang Prevention Through Targeted Outreach, operated by Boys & Girls Clubs of America (BGCA), is a communitywide gang prevention program that incorporates four objectives: community mobilization, recruitment, mainstreaming/programming, and case management.

Local implementation of this program, which has been described as a promising prevention initiative (Thornberry and Burch, 1997), begins with mobilizing community leaders and club staff, who discuss local gang issues and clarify their roles as they design a strategy to prevent gangs and offer youth alternatives to the gang lifestyle. Police departments, schools, social service agencies, and community organizations recruit at-risk youth into club programs in a nonstigmatizing way through direct outreach efforts and a referral network that links local clubs with courts. In the Boys & Girls Club, youth participate in programs based on their individual interests and needs. Programs are offered in five core areas: character and leadership development; education and career development; health and life skills; the arts; and sports, fitness, and recreation.

Case management is an integral part of the program. Staff document monthly progress on specific goals in the following areas: academic performance, involvement in the juvenile justice system, program participation, and family involvement.

In the early 1990's, an initial evaluation reported that once enrolled in Boys & Girls Clubs of America, as many as 48 percent of the youth showed improvement in the academic arena (Feyerherm, Pope, and Lovell, 1992). Specifically, more than 33 percent of the youth showed improved grades, and as many as 33 percent had better school attendance. OJJDP is currently funding an outcome evaluation of the Gang Prevention Through Targeted Outreach strategy, which will be completed in 2000.

The prevention component of Broader Urban Involvement and Leadership Development (BUILD) (Brewer et al., 1995; Ribisl and Davidson, 1993), developed in the mid-1980's and still operating, consists of a gang prevention curriculum and an afterschool program. Thompson and Jason's (1988) evaluation of the program showed that youth in BUILD were less likely to join a gang than youth in the comparison group, but the difference was only marginally statistically significant. The evaluation was limited by a short-term followup period and a relatively small sample size.

Implications of Risk and Protective Factors

Youth gang involvement is preventable. For reasons that are not well understood, gangs have become a very popular adolescent peer group, one of many peer groups that youth try out during their adolescent years (Fleisher, 1998). Most adolescents who join a gang do not remain long—at least in newer gang problem cities. Studies in Denver, CO; Rochester, NY; and Seattle, WA (Thornberry, 1998), showed that from one-half to two-thirds stayed in a gang for 1 year or less; one-third or more belonged for multiple years.

These longitudinal studies of large samples of urban adolescents have examined risk factors for gang membership (see Hill et al., 1999, for a summary).4 Risk factors for multiple-year membership have been examined in the Seattle study. In the Rochester study, part of the OJJDP-funded Program of Research on the Causes and Correlates of Delinquency, Bjerregaard and Smith (1993) found that similar factors predicted gang membership among both males and females, including delinquent peers and early sexual activity.5 In Denver, another site in the Causes and Correlates program, Esbensen and colleagues (1993) found that higher commitment to delinquent peers, lower commitment to positive peers, more negative labeling by teachers, and higher peer tolerance for criminal activity were risk factors for gang membership.

In the Seattle study, which was supported by OJJDP and several other organizations, Hill and colleagues (1999) examined risk factors in childhood (ages 1012) for adolescent gang membership (age 13 and beyond) (see table 2). They found that risk factors span all major risk factor domains: community, family, school, peer group, and individual characteristics. The most important community factor is growing up in neighborhoods in which drugs are readily available. Several family variables are important: family instability, extreme economic deprivation, low attachment to the mother, family management problems, family conflict, parent proviolent attitudes, and sibling antisocial behavior. Numerous school factors are very important, including low educational aspiration, low commitment and attachment to school, high levels of antisocial behavior, low achievement test scores, identification as being learning disabled, and low grades. The most important peer group factor is associating with "bad" peers; conversely, high attachment to conventional peers decreases the probability of joining gangs. Individual risk factors include early involvement in antisocial behavior, hyperactivity, externalizing behaviors, alcohol consumption, lack of social competence, and early sexual activity. This study also found that the odds of joining a gang increase greatly when multiple risk factors are present in childhood.

Battin-Pearson and colleagues (1999) examined risk factors for sustained (multiple-year) gang membership, comparing these with predictors or risk factors for nonmembership and transitory (single-year) membership. The strongest predictors of sustained membership versus nonmembership are having learning disabilities; interacting with antisocial peers and not much with prosocial peers; and exhibiting low social competence, low academic achievement, early antisocial behavior, early violence, early marijuana use, high internalization, and high externalizing behavior. The strongest predictors of sustained membership versus single-year membership are high interaction with antisocial peers and low interaction with prosocial peers, early antisocial behavior, high internalization, and high externalizing behavior. A survey designed to help identify risk factors for gang membership will be available from the National Youth Gang Center.6

Few studies have addressed protective (resilience) factors that buffer children and adolescents from gang involvement. Thus, research is needed in this area. Although some protective factors are the converse of risk factors (e.g., early academic achievement, the antithesis of low school performance, can be expected to protect children from gang involvement), other protective factors may reside in mental and social development processes that are not linked to risk factors (Rutter, Giller, and Hagell, 1998). Maxson and colleagues (1998) suggest several protective factors that might buffer adolescents from gang involvement (e.g., counseling for youth who experience multiple stressful events).7

One study examined risk factors for gang membership among a sample of Asian adolescents in Westminster, CA (Wyrick, 2000), and also identified possible protective factors against gang involvement. Surprisingly, this study found that Vietnamese youth who reject their Asian identity and find it difficult to adopt an American identity are not more likely than other Vietnamese youth to join gangs. Rather, researchers identified two main factors that predict Vietnamese youth gang involvement: progang attitudes and exposure to gangs in the neighborhood. Four predictors were found to influence the development of progang attitudes: negative school attitude, family conflict, poor social integration (i.e., a generalized sense of alienation), and perceived benefits of gang membership. As for protective factors, the researchers suggested that while services focusing solely on cultural identity issues may have benefits, they will not be effective in preventing or reducing gang involvement by Vietnamese youth. Instead, services should focus on improving youth attitudes about school, reducing feelings of alienation, and modifying perceptions that gangs are beneficial to their members. Furthermore, the researchers suggested that services might prevent gang involvement if they address family conflict and buffer the influences of neighborhood gangs (Wyrick, 2000).



2 Reparenting involves adults who act as parents, giving youth unconditional love, clear standards of behavior, and constant availability.

3 Sharing Information: A Guide to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act and Participation in Juvenile Justice Programs (Medaris, Campbell, and James, 1997), a detailed guide to the Act, assists schools and other agencies in developing records systems and establishing information-sharing protocols. It is available free from the Juvenile Justice Clearinghouse (8006388736).

4 Howell (1998b) reviewed risk factors for gang membership that have been identified in cross-sectional studies. These studies are not as reliable as longitudinal studies for identifying risk factors because cross-sectional studies measure both risk factors and outcomes in the same time period; thus, a predictor could well be an outcome of gang involvement.

5 Gang prevention programs should target females in addition to males. Analyses of data collected in the National Evaluation of the G.R.E.A.T. curriculum show that females are well-represented in gangs and that the overwhelming majority of youth gangs have female members (Deschenes and Esbensen, 1999; Esbensen and Deschenes, 1998; Esbensen, Deschenes, and Winfree, 1999; Esbensen and Winfree, 1998).

6 For more information, call the Institute for Intergovernmental Research's National Youth Gang Center at 8004460912.

7 This was a cross-sectional study. Longitudinal research designs are stronger for determining protective factors that serve as buffers from gang involvement at a later point in adolescence.



Previous

Youth Gang Programs and Strategies
OJJDP Summary
August 2000