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Youth Gangs: An Overview

NCJ Number
Date Published
August 1998
20 pages
Publication Series
This paper, the first in a series on gangs, provides an overview of the problems that youth gangs pose, identifies the differences between youth gangs and adult criminal organizations, examines the risk factors that lead to youth gang membership, and presents promising strategies being used to curb youth gang involvement.
Youth gang problems are proliferating across the United States, even in small cities and towns. At the same time, the composition of youth gangs is changing; smaller, less structured gangs are emerging, and although drug trafficking is generally not an organized activity managed by gangs, drug gangs are more predominant now than in previous decades. The racial/ethnic composition of gangs is also changing, and gangs are becoming more organized. Gang violence, particularly homicide, has increased, owing mainly to the availability and use of more dangerous weapons, especially automatic and semiautomatic handguns. Most gang problems are "homegrown"; gang migration apparently contributes little to local gang problems. Although significant progress is being made in identifying the major risk factors for youth gang involvement, much more information is needed to specify the developmental sequence by which these risk factors operate. This knowledge will be useful in the development of prevention and intervention programs. A key issue in combatting youth gangs is providing a uniform definition for them, which involves distinguishing them from troublesome youth groups and adult criminal organizations. Youth gangs and adult criminal organizations have different origins, and they serve unique purposes for participants. Efforts to develop effective long-term interventions must take these differences into account. 176 references

Date Published: August 1, 1998