Gang Prevention

Federal Data

Tracking gang statistics and trends can help to assess the demographics of gangs in the U.S., including age range, prevalence, location, and types of crime associated with gangs. This information can help to target prevention initiatives and interventions, and determine youth at risk for gang involvement.

Gang Activity and Violence

Although gang activity1 in the U.S. showed a decline in the mid 1990’s to 2000, it increased from 2001 to 2005 and has since remained constant. Over the past decade, annual estimates of the number of gangs have averaged about 25,000 nationally and the number of gang members has been about 750,000.2

  • In 2009, larger cities and suburban counties accounted for the majority of gang-related violence and more than 96 percent of all gang homicides.3
  • During 2009-2012, cities with 100,000 or more persons saw gang-related homicides increase by 13 percent.4
  • In Chicago and Los Angeles, nearly half of all homicides were attributed to gang violence from 2009-2012.5

Demographic Characteristics of Gang Members

  • Between 1998 and 2009, gang members were overwhelmingly male with less than ten percent of total gang members being female. Learn more about the involvement of girls in gangs and juvenile delinquency.  
  • While the majority of gang members are adults, as of 2008, two out every five gang members are under 18, as reported by law enforcement.6
  • The prevalence of youth under 18 in gangs is higher in smaller cities and rural communities where gang problems are less established, compared to larger cities.7
  • Between 1996 and 2008, gang members were more likely to be Hispanic/Latino and African-American/black than other race/ethnicities. Specifically they reported gang members were 50 percent Hispanic or Latino, 32 percent African American, 10 percent white, and 8 percent identifying as another race or ethnicity.8

Resources

National Youth Gang Survey Analysis
This annual survey of law enforcement agencies is developed and implemented by the National Gang Center and is used to assess the extent of gang problems by measuring the presence, characteristics, and behaviors of local gangs in jurisdictions throughout the country. 

2011 National Gang Threat Assessment
The 2011 National Gang Threat Assessment is a comprehensive annual report developed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Violence by Gang Members, 1993-2003 (PDF, 2 pages)
This brief from the Bureau of Justice Statistics discusses national crime rates, violent assaults, and the percentage in which a gang or gang member was identified as the perpetrator. Rates of gang violence are given by gender, race, and age.

National Gang Center
The National Gang Center website features the latest research and discussion about gangs, evidence-based anti-gang programs, as well as links to tools, databases, and other resources to assist in developing and implementing effective community-based gang prevention, intervention, and suppression strategies.

National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS)
The NCVS is the nation’s primary source for information on criminal victimization. Data is reported on the likelihood of victimization by certain types of assault and by different segments of the population such as women, the elderly, and racial groups.

Uniform Crime Reports
These reports from the Federal Bureau of Investigation summarize arrest data from police agencies across the country, from 1995 to the present day. Topics covered include crime in the U.S., hate crime, and law enforcement officers killed and assaulted.

1 According to the National Gang Center, gang activity includes gang graffiti, drug sales, firearms use, aggravated assault, burglary, robbery, theft, and motor vehicle theft.
2 Egley & Howell, 2011
3 Egley & Howell, 2011
4 Egley & Howell, 2012
5 Egley & Howell, 2012
6 National Gang Center, 2012
7 National Gang Center, 2012
8 National Gang Center, 2012

Juvenile Justice

Youth under the age of 18 who are accused of committing a delinquent or criminal act are typically processed through a juvenile justice system1. While similar to that of the adult criminal justice system in many ways—processes include arrest, detainment, petitions, hearings, adjudications, dispositions, placement, probation, and reentry—the juvenile justice process operates according to the premise that youth are fundamentally different from adults, both in terms of level of responsibility and potential for rehabilitation. The primary goals of the juvenile justice system, in addition to maintaining public safety, are skill development, habilitation, rehabilitation, addressing treatment needs, and successful reintegration of youth into the community.

Learn more about the juvenile justice process.

1States, however, have the right to set lower age thresholds for processing youth through the adult system. In addition, some states automatically process any individual, regardless of age, through the adult criminal justice system for some serious offenses.

Gang Involvement Prevention

Preventing youth involvement in gangs is an important issue. Compared to non-gang members, gang members commit a disproportionate amount of violent crimes and offenses across the country. Gangs and gang involvement result in short- and long-term negative outcomes for gang-involved youth, their friends and families, and the surrounding communities.1 Gangs are typically defined as groups having the following characteristics:

  • Formal organizational structure
  • Identifiable leadership
  • Identified territory
  • Recurrent interaction
  • Involvement in serious or violent behavior2

In an effort to replace older adult gang members who are incarcerated, gangs often try to recruit youth.3 Youth often succumb to these efforts at early ages because of their vulnerability and susceptibility to recruitment tactics.4  As a result, it is necessary to begin prevention efforts at a young age, identify risk and protective factors for gang involvement, and utilize a comprehensive approach that involves multiple sectors and disciplines working together (e.g., justice, education, labor, social services, public health and safety, businesses, philanthropic organizations, faith-based organizations, and other youth, family, and community-serving groups).5

1 Howell, 1998
2 Howell, 1994
3 Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), 2011
4 FBI, 2011
5 National Forum on Youth Violence Prevention, 2011

National Forum on Youth Violence Prevention (NFYVP)

The Forum models a new kind of federal/local collaboration, encouraging its members to change the way they do business by sharing common challenges and promising strategies, and through coordinated action.

Forum on Youth Violence Prevention

2015

Issue 28 (PDF, 3 pages) — June 2015, Volume 5, Number 6

  • Long Beach Seeks Peer-Sharing Opportunities
  • Alive and Free in Seattle
  • Faith Communities Come Together in Violence Prevention

Issue 27 (PDF, 2 pages) — May 2015, Volume 5, Number 5

Memphis Fast Forward

The City of Memphis and Shelby County, Tennessee have developed three interwoven violence prevention initiatives—Operation: Safe Community, the Memphis Youth Violence Prevention Plan, and the Defending Childhood Initiative.

Key components that support the structure of these initiatives include

Violence Prevention

Youth violence is a significant problem that affects thousands of young people each day, and in turn, their families, schools, and communities.1 Youth violence and crime affect a community's economic health, as well as individuals' physical and mental health and well-being. Homicide is the third leading cause of death for youth in the United States.2 In 2016, more than 530,000 young people ages 10-24 were treated in emergency departments for injuries sustained from violence.3

Youth violence typically involves young people hurting other peers. It can take different forms. Examples include fights, bullying, threats with weapons, and gang-related violence. A young person can be involved with youth violence as a victim, offender, or witness.

Youth violence is preventable. To prevent and eliminate violence and improve youth well-being, communities should employ evidence-based, comprehensive approaches that address the multiple factors that impact violence, both factors that increase risk of violence and factors that buffer against risk and promote positive youth development and well-being.

Prevention, intervention, and treatment strategies that are trauma-informed are key. Many youth have experienced traumatic events, including physical, sexual, and emotional abuse; family and community violence; natural disasters; and the ongoing, cumulative impact of poverty, racism, and oppression. Repeated exposure to traumatic events increases the risk of youth violence. Organizational trauma-informed care that is grounded in an understanding of the causes and consequences of trauma can promote resilience and healing, while reducing youth violence.

Prevention cannot be accomplished by one sector alone. Justice, public health, education, health care (mental, behavioral, medical), government (local, state, and federal), social services, business, housing, media, and organizations that comprise the civil society sector, such as faith-based organizations, youth-serving organizations, foundations, and other non-governmental organizations all need to play a role. In addition, the voices of children, youth, and families who are most affected by violence must be front and center. Collectively, we can prevent and eliminate violence and improve well-being.

Resources

SAMHSA’s Concept of Trauma and Guidance for a Trauma-Informed Approach (PDF, 27 pages)
The purpose of this publication, developed by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, is to develop a working concept of trauma and a trauma-informed approach, and to develop a shared understanding of these concepts that would be acceptable and appropriate across an array of service systems and stakeholder groups. This framework is for the behavioral health specialty sectors, but can be adapted to other sectors such as child welfare, education, criminal and juvenile justice, primary health care, and the military.

SAMHSA-HRSA Center for Integrated Health Solutions
This webpage, focused on trauma and trauma-informed approaches, is geared towards health, behavioral health and integrated care leadership, staff, and patients/consumers. The information and resources provided can be easily adapted to other groups and settings such as schools.

Shared Framework for Reducing Youth Violence and Promoting Well Being (PDF, 15 pages)
The Shared Framework draws upon previously developed frameworks and models and incorporates the research and programmatic evidence base that the federal, state, and local partners have built over three decades across multiple disciplines. This includes key elements of current and past initiatives—the National Forum on Youth Violence Prevention, Defending Childhood, and the Community-based Violence Prevention program—and other federal youth violence work of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Administration for Children and Families, and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

VetoViolence Portal
VetoViolence is CDC’s online source of free violence prevention trainings, tools, and resources.

Violence Reduction Response Center
This VRCC resource from the Bureau of Justice Assistance provides free, timely, direct access to expert staff who can connect users to the most relevant violent crime reduction training and technical assistance. Violence reduction professionals, law enforcement agencies, victims’ groups, and other practitioners in the field can use the VRRC as a one-stop shop to connect to resources that fit their unique needs.


1 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 2018a
2 CDC, 2018b
2 CDC, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, 2018

Youth Gangs and Schools

Few schools escape dynamics and behaviors that are associated with gangs. Think, for example, about bullying, disruptive intergroup conflicts, drug sales and abuse, and vandalism such as theft, graffiti, and other forms of property damage. From both a policy and practice perspective, it is essential for schools to understand and address gang-related problems that interfere with productive schooling. Fortunately, there are many useful resources on the topic