The measure of gang involvement on kidsdata.org is student responses to the question, “Do you consider yourself a member of a gang?” from the California Healthy Kids Survey (CHKS). These data are available by grade level (7th, 9th, and 11th, and non-traditional students), gender and grade level, race/ethnicity, and level of connectedness to school. School connectedness is a summary measure that includes the following elements: being treated fairly, feeling close to people, feeling happy, feeling part of school, and feeling safe at school. These data are presented on kidsdata through a partnership with WestEd, which developed and administers CHKS, and the California Department of Education. Use caution in interpreting these data, as the term “gang” has varying definitions and it was not defined in the survey.
"Non-traditional" students are those enrolled in Community Day Schools or Continuation Education. According to EdSource, nearly 10% of public school students in California are enrolled in these programs.
While youth involved in gangs comprise only a small portion of the adolescent population, gang membership is a significant threat to youth safety (1). Recent data estimate that about 756,000 youth are involved in gangs in the U.S, with most gang members joining between the ages of 12 and 15 (1). Gang members are responsible for the majority of serious violence committed by youth, are likely to be involved in selling drugs; they also are more likely to bring weapons to school than other youth (2).
Gang-related homicides are more likely than other homicides to involve adolescents, youth of color, and males (3). Out of the five U.S. cities with the highest prevalence of gang homicides, three are in California (Long Beach, Los Angeles, and Oakland); it is estimated that in Los Angeles and Long Beach, gang homicides account for 61% and 69% of homicides among 15- to 24-year-olds, respectively (3). However, misinformation about the extent and severity of violence associated with gangs has sometimes hindered the development of effective programs and policies (4). Research suggests that a balanced, comprehensive approach involving prevention, intervention, and suppression efforts—compared to only using suppression efforts—may better serve communities grappling with gang-related risks (4).
For more information on gang involvement, please see kidsdata.org’s Research & Links section.
Sources for this narrative:
- U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. (2012). Comprehensive anti-gang initiative. Retrieved from: http://www.ojjdp.gov/programs/antigang/index.html
- WestEd. (2009). California Healthy Kids Survey (CHKS) California
school district secondary school survey results Fall 2009/Spring 2010,
Core Module A. Retrieved from: http://chks.wested.org/reports
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention. (2012). Gang homicides—Five U.S. cities,
2003-2008. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 61(3), 46-51. Retrieved from: http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm6103a2.htm?s_cid=mm6103a2_w
- Howell, J. C. (2007). Menacing or mimicking? Realities of youth gangs. Juvenile and Family Court Journal, 58(2), 39-50. Retrieved from: http://www.nationalgangcenter.gov/Content/Documents/Menacing-or-Mimicking.pdf
Policymakers at every level are taking action to combat gang activity across the state. The most effective approaches go beyond law enforcement and gang suppression to a comprehensive prevention model that includes intervention and suppression (1). These prevention approaches address the individual, family, school and community risk factors, which, in aggregate, increase the likelihood that youth will join gangs.
According to research and subject experts, policy options that could prevent gang involvement include addressing risk factors by:
- Strengthening family relationships and stability, e.g. parental supervision, support, and financial
- Promoting evidence-based school discipline policies and ensuring that schools offer safe, caring, and engaging environments with adequate academic support (1)
- Training teachers and parents to effectively
manage disruptive behavior by youth, and teaching students conflict resolution and interpersonal
- Increasing adult supervision during out-of-school time, and providing positive opportunities for youth recreation and community engagement, such as high quality after-school programs (1)
Additional policy options include supporting evidence-based, tailored community gang intervention strategies that fit individual and neighborhood needs. A continuum of prevention and intervention programs should be developed and evaluated based on an assessment of each community's needs; these programs should operate in concert with a targeted strategy of community and law enforcement responses to serious gang activity (1, 2, 3).
For more policy ideas on gang prevention, visit the California Cities Gang Prevention Network and the federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. Also see Policy Implications on kidsdata.org under these topics: Truancy, Suspensions & Expulsions; School Safety; Bullying/Harassment at School; and Juvenile Arrests.
Sources for this narrative:
- Howell, J. C. (2010). Gang prevention: An overview of research and programs. Juvenile Justice Bulletin, U.S. Department of Justice. Retrieved from: http://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/ojjdp/231116.pdf
- Reed, W. L., & Decker, S. H. (2002). Responding to gangs: Evaluation and research. Retrieved from: http://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/190351.pdf
- Greenwood, P. (2010). Preventing and reducing youth crime and violence: Using evidence-based practices. California Governor’s Office of Gang and Youth Violence Policy. Retrieved from: http://www.calgrip.ca.gov/documents/Preventing_and_Reducing_Youth_Crime_and_Violence.pdf
In 2008-10, 8.3% of 7th graders, 9.1% of 9th graders, and 8.2% of 11th graders in California reported that they consider themselves gang members. Higher percentages were reported among non-traditional students (i.e., those enrolled in Community Day Schools or Continuation Education), at 15.9% in 2008-10. As in previous years, greater percentages of males in 7th, 9th, and 11th grades, and non-traditional male students, reported that they considered themselves gang members than their female peers in 2008-10. In addition, students who report feeling less connected to their schools more often report that they consider themselves gang members. Among racial/ethnic groups, higher percentages of African American/Black students report that they considered themselves members of a gang than students in other groups.