U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.


NCJ Number
Date Published
April 1994
2 pages
Based on a review of the gang literature, this Fact Sheet is part of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention's (OJJDP's) effort to inform its planning for addressing gang issues.
The definition of a gang that is widely used in research includes five features: 1) formal organizational structure (not a syndicate); 2) identifiable leadership; 3) identified with a territory; 4) recurrent interaction of members; and 5) engaged in serious or violent behavior. Given the absence of a national reporting system on gangs in America, estimates of their prevalence are based on irregular surveys. Based on Curry's1993 law enforcement survey, there were 4,881 gangs with 249,324 members. This same survey determined that police records on gang incidents were not sufficient to distinguish reported gang crimes from other juvenile crimes nationwide. The available data indicated that the 249,324 gang members committed only 46,359 crimes. The available data suggest that gangs are spreading to more cities, and their offenses are more violent. It is unclear, however, whether violence by juveniles is primarily gang-related. There are limited empirical data on the involvement of gangs in organized drug trafficking. There is also limited support for a connection between gangs and increased homicides and weapons use in connection with drug trafficking. Studies of established gangs with long histories in particular cities indicate that gang members have long delinquent careers; however, most juveniles do not stay in a gang for longer than a year. Gangs facilitate, if they do not promote, delinquent behavior. This Fact Sheet also provides information on gang member demographics (age, gender, and race) and the presence of gangs in schools. OJJDP is planning to develop a comprehensive program that addresses gang-related activities. These plans are detailed in OJJDP's Program Plan for Fiscal Year 1994.

Date Published: April 1, 1994