A DETAILED CHILD WELFARE GANG ASSESSMENT
Since the early 1900s, the gang subculture has continued to manifest its way into society. For more than a century gangs have been a significant problem in the United States. Gang problems vary over time with low and high periods of gang activity. Four phases of gang evolution has been noted in the United States beginning in the “late nineteenth century, the 1920’s, the 1960’s and the end of the twentieth century” (Cahill et al., 2008). The first three periods consisted of local and recent immigrants who engaged in criminal activities. At the end of the 20th century, spanning approximately 30 years, there was a major national increase in the youth gang problem (Miller, 2001). The proposed explanation for the increase in youth gangs was due to a decrease in economic opportunities for urban youth, family problems, media coverage and gang migrating throughout the United States (Miller, 2001).
The United States has seen a substantial increase in the number of gang members since 1996. In 1996, gang membership was estimated at 846,000 (Egley, Howell, & Major, July 2006). In 2002, “approximately 85 percent of all gang members” resided in large cities and suburban counties (Egley, Howell, & Major, July 2006, p. v). According to the 3,550 city and county law enforcement jurisdictions who participated in the 2007 National Youth Gang Survey, there are approximately 788,000 gang members and 27,000 active gangs in the United States (Egley & O'Donnell, 2009). The survey also indicates a significant increase in gang problems, the number of gangs and gang members between 2002 and 2007 (Egley & O'Donnell, 2009). In 2008, there were approximately 1 million gang members (National Drug, 2009). Gangs continue to be a national problem and more specifically a community concern.
California was the birthplace of this country’s most notorious gangs which are “The Crips”, “Bloods”, “18th Street”, “Mexican Mafia”, “Nuestra Familia”, “Mara Salvatrucha”, “Sur Trece”, “Hell’s Angels”, and the “Aryan Brothers” (Rodriguez, 2005)
As gang membership increase, the rate of criminal activity, drug trade and violence also increase. Gangs are involved in drug use and sales as well as other illegal criminal activities. According to the National Gang Threat Assessment (2009), gangs are the primary source for the distribution of illegal drugs throughout the United States. Between 1960 and 1991 the rate of violent crime increased by 500 percent (McCorkel & Miethe, 2002). According to Egley (2006), “Gang-related homicides have remained a serious problem, particularly in the gang-problem cities with the largest populations (p. v). In 2008, the Los Angeles Police report that there were approximately 170 gang related murders in the city of Los Angeles in 2008 (Los Angeles Police Department, 2009).
The age range of gang members has expanded suggesting that members are staying in a gang longer (Spergel et al., 1994). According to the National Youth Gang Survey 50 percent of gang members were under the age of 18; 50 percent were adults 18 years and older; 94 percent were males and 6 percent were females (Egley, Howell, & Major, July 2006). According to Spergel (1994), “gang members remain in gangs longer to pursue economic gain through increasingly serious criminal acts”
While gangs continue to exist throughout the United States, it is an increasing problem in the state of California. It is estimated that there are 1,300 gangs and 150,000 gang members throughout Los Angeles County and 400 gangs and 39,000 gang members residing in the City of Los Angeles (Bureau of Justice, 2001).
Gangs have taken a hold of many communities throughout the United States and membership has continued to increase over the years. Many factors contribute to the likelihood of a young person joining a gang. Identifying risk factors associated with gang involvement could include possible causes such as environment, economic status, family dysfunction, lack of family support, individual characteristics, school, and peer pressure (Seals, 2009; (Esbensen, Freng, D., & Taylor, 2007). These risk factors have been present since the early formation of gangs.
Purpose of the Program
The purpose of this program is to assess children and families entering the child welfare system for gang involvement and/or the potential gang involvement and to refer the family to prevention and intervention programs within their community. The objective of the assessment is to reduce the number of youth from joining gangs, increase parental gang awareness and, coax youth, parents and caregivers away from the gang lifestyle.
Youth gangs have a long history in the United States. The 2008 National Youth Gang Survey estimated 27,900 active youth gangs operating in 32.4% the nation’s cities, suburbs and rural areas (Egley Jr., Howell, & Moore, 2010). Youth gang members are predominately Blacks and Hispanics (Snyder & Sickmund, 2006). The National Youth Gang Survey Analysis estimates that 49% of Hispanics, 35% of Blacks, 9% White and 7% of others make up the overall gang population (National Gang Center, 2009).
Research indicates that gangs are predominately found in poor, minority communities (Vigil, 2002). As statistics have shown, the majority of gang members are from Blacks and Hispanics racial backgrounds (Egley, 2002). In 2008, the poverty rate for African Americans was 24.7% and Hispanic 23.2% (Institute for Research on Poverty). In 2007, the Department of Children and Family Services receive over 167,000 child abuse referrals per year of which the majority were Black and Hispanic families (Court Appointed Special Advocates for Children). Poverty, socially disadvantaged communities, family problems, maltreatment, schools, and poor economic systems contribute to the large numbers of minority youth joining gangs.
The proposed program is designed to assess the multi-ethnic population of children and families who come into contact with the child welfare system. With the high rate of poverty, high risk of gang involvement and over-representation in the child welfare system, minority children and families will benefit from a comprehensive assessment to ensure that the family receives appropriate services to meet their individual needs. The gang assessment will help to identify the children and families who would benefit from a gang intervention and prevention programs.
Social Work Relevance
Youth gangs have a long history in the United States. Over time gang activity has fluctuated; however, in the last three decades the United States has seen a rapid increase in the growth of gangs (Cahill et al., 2008). This gang expansion has initiated increased concern on the part of policy makers, criminal justice system and the communities affected. The National Association of Social Workers Code of Ethics have a set of standard principles by which social workers should use to guide their practice in working with their clients (National Association of Social Workers, 1999). Social work involves working with different populations through a multi-dimensional and systems theory approach. The principles of service, social justice, dignity and worth of the person, importance of human relationships, integrity and, competence are critical values to apply when working with all populations.
The primary goal of any social work practice is to address social problems and to challenge social injustice (National Association of Social Workers, 1999). The increasing gang problem that is taking more young people hostage deserves the attention of social workers. Advocating for effective programs is crucial in addressing this ongoing problem and assessing youth and families for gang involvement or risk for gang involvement should be included in the child welfare system.
Families enter the child welfare system daily and are assessed for an array of services. One missing link is an assessment for gang involvement or the potential for gang involvement. Understanding how gang involvement impacts the family, why youth choose to join a gang and when a child is vulnerable or at risk of joining a gang will assist social workers to better assess the family for specific services that will address these special needs. This much needed assessment by the children welfare system may help to decrease the number of youth entering into gang lifestyle as well has helping parents and caregivers become more aware of the problem. This assessment tool is of importance to the social workers who work with aggressive youth who are either gang involved, have the potential of becoming involved in gangs or come from a generational gang involved family as it will enable the social worker to refer the youth or family to the appropriate services that address gang issues. Also, the value of using evidence based programs must be understood by the social worker when choosing and referring clients to intervention and prevention programs. Evidence based programs ensure measurable outcomes that validate the effectiveness of the program.
The term gang has been used to identify various groups who engage in illegal and criminal activities. These criminal groups have existed as far back as the nineteenth century and continue to evolve so the term gang lives on. Over the years social scientists opinions vary when defining gangs. Frederick Thrasher, known for his earlier studies on gangs, thought of gangs as collective group formed in a spontaneous manner who unify through conflict (Covey, Menard, & Franzese, 1997). Thrasher’s definition is important because of “its influence on decades of research and thinking on gangs and gang activities” (Covey, Menard, & Franzese, 1997, p. 4). Currently there is not an agreement on a universal definition of a gang and researchers have disagreed on what to include or exclude when defining a gang (Sullivan, 2005).
Researchers argue whether defining a gang is necessary. Horowitz maintains that consensus will not be accomplished because a definition will inhibit further questions and exploration of the gang culture and place a cloud over areas of concern (Petersen, 2000, p. 142). Yet other researchers agree that a universal definition is necessary as a starting point and will be the core of commonality when “studying, describing, and regulating gang behavior” (Petersen, 2000, p. 142).
Miller defines a gang as “a self-formed association of peers, bound together by mutual interests, with identifiable leadership, including a criminal element” and Short proposed that a gang is a “group of individuals who gather frequently, determines who can join or not join and have a territorial “hanging-out” area” (Covey, Menard, & Franzese, 1997, p. 5). Klein (1995) includes in his definition of a gang that all members must openly acknowledge their criminal involvement and such criminal activity must be approved by the gang members. Definition of gangs is similar to descriptions given by Huff (1996) who states that the difference between youth groups and a gang is the criminal involvement, neighborhood protection and the development of leadership. Many researchers rely on the media and police concepts to develop a definition of a gang. For example, Gordon (2000) utilized media and police theories to shape his definition of a gang to include three or more individuals whose sole purpose is to engage in violence and criminal activity. However, Miller’s (1980) definition of a gang is used as the baseline when defining a gang because it incorporates many of the elements of other researchers such as organization, leadership, specific purpose, control of neighborhoods and, illegal activity.
As research suggests the common theme in defining a gang is based on criminal or illegal activities of the group. The legal systems base their definition of a gang on the criminal activity and the pattern of a group of individuals who have “identifying criteria such as admitting to gang membership, associating with a gang, commit crimes together, clothing, tattoos and, claiming of territory” (National Gang Center, 2009).
Gangs are considered to be a group of individuals who are cohesive, are tied together through their membership, neighborhood and criminal and illegal activity.
United States Gang History
The United States history of gangs can be traced back to the 19th century when the first juvenile gangs emerged (McCorkle & Miethe, 2002). The composition of these early gangs consisted of young male immigrants who lived in poverty and economically disadvantaged neighborhoods (Spergel, 1995). These early gangs appeared on the east coast in New York, Chicago, Boston and Philadelphia. The first known gangs date back to the 1800s. In 1820, an Irish-American immigrant gang, Forty Thieves, was formed in New York (Covey et al., 1997). Other gangs soon formed and engaged in very violent and bloody fights (Covey et al., 1997). The gang members were young immigrant males “whose presence and activities were generally perceived as a threat to the greater community” (McCorkle & Miethe, 2002). These early gangs were of Irish, Polish and Italian decent (Vigil, 2002). Integrating into this country was difficult for these new immigrants as they spoke a different language and were not familiar with the customs of this new society. This new language, custom and society were very challenging to the young immigrant males which pushed them to find a way to protect themselves by forming gangs for self-protection (Triplett, 2004).
Moving into the post Civil War era, other gangs began to form. In the south the Ku Klux Klan gang was established and German gangs in NewYork’s Hell’s Kitchen area were formed (McCorkel & Miethe, 2002). During this period, gangs engaged in heavy drug use, neighborhood protection, rival gang fighting and assisted politicians by intimidating voter to sway votes (McCorkel & Miethe, 2002; Spergel, 1995). At this time drug use increased among gang members. Narcotic addiction grew because of technological innovations such as morphine, hypodermic syringe, cocaine and heroin (McCorkel & Miethe, 2002). The 20th century saw the development of more gangs from varying ethnic groups. These groups included the Jewish, Slavic, Polish, Anglo-Americans, Swedish, Black, Chinese, German, Bohemian and Irish (Triplett, 2004). These groups had backgrounds that were similar to their predecessors as they were minorities living in the poorest neighborhoods and of the lowest socio-economic status (Triplett, 2004).
By the 1970s, interest in gangs declined and the public’s attention was focused on other national concerns such s the Vietnam war, inflation and fuel shortages (Sheldon, Tracey, & Brown, 1997). In the 1980s there was a dramatic increase in the drug market and youth gangs (National Drug, 2009). The concern for public safety grew due to the increase in drive-by shootings, higher drug use and more violent and lethal criminal activity (Triplett, 2004). During this period the crack cocaine market was on the rise and rival gang violence increased (Klein, 1995). Gang recruitment within the gang’s own neighborhoods contributed to the growth of the gangs culture (Miller, 2001).
Gangs continue to be feared by the public as they have become part of the fabric of this nation. The poverty stricken areas of this country lack resources, opportunities and economic barriers that continue to hold this disadvantage group captive to a life of self-protection and thus the continuance of the gang culture (Reed & Decker, 2002).
Los Angeles Gang History
Southern California juvenile gangs began to emerge in the 1920s. As with previous gangs, poverty, along with racism, pushed Hispanics and African Americans to form gangs. During this period, Los Angeles was undergoing a major change as a large influx of Mexican immigrants arrived in Southern California (Vigil, 1990). Southern California’s economic growth drew Mexican immigrants to the land of plenty (Sheldon, Tracey, & Brown, 1997). As most immigrants did in those days, as well as today, they settled in specific neighborhoods, were poor and banned together due to economic and discriminatory practices. These recent immigrants moved into the least desirable part of the city. The neighborhoods became the first barrios of Los Angeles (Vigil, 2002).
With the increasing Mexican immigrant population, the economic difficulty of the depression era and racism, many Mexican immigrants were deported or sent to fight in World War II (Vigil, 2002). The Zoot Suit Riots of 1943 involving a Hispanic zoot suiter and the attack of a white girl triggered aggressive attacks on Hispanic youth by law enforcement and growing tension between Hispanics and Whites (Covey et al., 1997 & Vigil, 2003). Those who fought in the Zoot Suit Riots were seen as heroes by their neighborhood (Sheldon et al., 1997).
Deportation and fighting in World War II left the Mexican immigrant population without strong leadership and; therefore, they were unable to combat racism and discrimination. In addition, Mexican immigrants were trying to adapt to their new environment and the dominant culture which was not accepting. Faced with the challenges of basic survival, poverty, racism, and conditions of the barrios the youth began to form a cohesive bond with each other which resulted in the formation of gangs. These conditions led the youth to the streets (McCorkel & Miethe, 2002). The Mexican youth were growing up without any guidance or positive role models while watching their parents’ struggle to provide for the family (Vigil, 2003). Out of this despair grew the Hispanic gangs of today. Left with few roles models, the Mexican immigrant youth turned to the criminal element of their community to imitate and follow. The gangs of this era continue to grow and develop into the gangs of today.
African American gang emerged in Los Angeles shortly after the Hispanic gangs in the late 1920s (Alonso, 1999). African American gangs faced the same obstacles as their Hispanic counterparts. They were poor and economically disadvantaged (Sheldon et al., 1997). They were also trying to adapt and assimilate into the dominate cultures. Racial discrimination, poverty and the economic status of African Americans fueled the catalyst for the first African American club in the Los Angeles area. These clubs were formed as a protective mechanism against the violence perpetrated by White clubs on African American youth in 1940 (Alonso, 1999 & Vigil, 2002). African American clubs continue to expand until the 1960s when Whites began to move out of the neighborhoods. At this time African American clubs began to have conflict with each other and the Los Angeles Police Department began to label these youth as “gangs” (Alonso, 1999).
The late 1960s to the 1970s marked as a significant period for African American gangs. The Watts riots aligned the gangs and the political movements gave African Americans a ray of hope. With the ending of the political movement due to incarceration and assassination of several leaders, the Crips and Bloods gangs emerged.
Of the many African American gangs within the city of Los Angeles, the most well-known are those of the Bloods and the Crips. The Crips and Bloods identify themselves by wearing specific colors that signifies their gang membership, marked their neighborhoods with graffiti and initiated new members by jumping them into the gang (Yablonsky, 1997). The Crips and Bloods adopted these customs from the Hispanic gangs (Vigil, 2003). The membership within the Crips and Bloods gangs increased significantly throughout the 1980s and 1990s and spread to other areas in the United States (Alonso, 1999).
Los Angeles leads the nation in the largest number of street gangs and African American and Hispanic gangs continue to flourish in Los Angeles (National Drug, 2009). Currently there is an estimated 250 active gangs in Los Angeles with a combined membership of over 26,000 (Los Angeles Police Department, 2009). In 2007, 93.4 percent of gang members were males, 6.6 percent females, 49.5 percent Hispanic and 35.2 percent African Americans (National Gang Center, 2009).
The reality of females within gangs is a subject that has not been explored in depth, although women are associated with gangs. Women have been in gangs since the early 1800s. Hell-Cat Maggie is one of the first documented female gangsters (McCorkel & Miethe, 2002). Females have been a part of gang culture for decades. Research suggests that that the female role in a gang is that of a sex object, girlfriend or tomboy (Taylor, 1993). Early studies report that female gangs only exist because of their male gang counterparts and that the female gang identity is tied into the male gang (Taylor, 1993). The accuracy of these earlier studies “of females as sex objects and tomboys is difficult to judge because there is not enough reliable data in these reports” (as cited in Moore & Hagedorn, 2001, p. 2).
Female and male gangs differ and those differences influence the behavior and the outcome of the members. A female gang may be self-ruling or associated with a male gang or the gang could be a “fully gender-integrated gang” (as cited in Moore & Hagedorn, 2001, p. 2). Existing research indicates that female gang membership will impact the adolescent greatly later in her life (Moore & Hagedorn, 2001).
Included in the overall growth of gang membership is the increased involvement of females (Howell, 1997). According to a recent survey conducted by the National Gang Center, females comprised approximately 10% of gang membership from 1998-2007 (National Gang Center, 2009). In larger cities, which reflect suburban county and smaller city gang membership, 8% had no women, 33.4% reported that one in four gangs in their area had females, 12.6% reported that approximately one in ten gangs had females, and 15.5% of the respondents stated that one in two gangs in their area had female members (National Gang Center, 2009).
While the data suggest that gangs have female members, their recognition is limited by research. Data suggest that in the United States there are approximately 80,000 female gang members; 32,000 teenagers; 48,000 adults (Hernandez, 2009). Approximately 60% of the gangs only allow girls to associate with them but do not allow them to become members and all girl gangs make up only 2% of the gang population (Hernandez, 2009). The data further states that female gang members commit less violent crimes, are arrested for drug use, curfew, runaway and larceny (Hernandez, 2009). There are approximately 14,000 girls involved with the juvenile justice system and held in correctional and residential facilities and most are gang affiliated (Hernandez, 2009 and Office of Juvenile Justice & Delinquency Prevention). A large portion of girls in jail (70%) reported being sexually abused and victimized as children; 65% have psychological concerns and; 26% have educational deficiencies which places them at a higer risk of joining a gang or associating with gang members (Hernandez, 2009).
In 2008, law enforcement agencies reported 629,800 arrests for females under the age of 18 (Puzzanchera, 2009). Juvenile Justice in California 2009 report indicates that 53,422 females were arrested for various offenses (California, 2010). This report further indicates that juvenile females (22.8%) are more likely t be counseled and released and their male counterparts (18.2%) who are more likely to be referred to the probation department.
Law enforcement agencies, surveys and field studies are sources of information for female gang criminal data. Law enforcement has a history of under arresting female gang members therefore, making their data unreliable (Moore & Hagedorn, 2001). Surveys provide valuable information comparing gang youth and non-gang youth but may fail to obtain accurate information as the youth may embellish. Field studies are valuable but not discuss criminal activity or arrests and female gang members are typically a challenge to reach or may be unrepresentative of the female sample needed (Moore & Hagedorn, 2001). Because of these barriers, collecting female gang research data is challenging.
Why Youth Join Gangs
Gangs have a powerful and devastating effect on the community due to violence, drugs and criminal activities. The exposure of violence to a child often has a lifelong effect. There are many factors that influence the youth’s decision to join a gang (Decker & Curry, 2002). A number of risk factors can be used to predict what type of youth will join and remain in a gang (Decker & Curry, 2002). Risk factors that my influence a youth to join a gang include lack of family support, community, peers, individual characteristics and economic status.
In 1985 the Seattle Social Development Project (SDDP) began a longitudinal study that tracked more the 800 youth living in high-crime communities (Hill, Lui, & Hawkins, 2001). The participants were fifth grade students, half male and female, sample was ethnically diverse, 46% were from low income families, and 52% participate in the school lunch program (Decker & Curry, 2002).
The SDDP study predicted from the community perspective the youth would join and remain in a gang due to the availability of marijuana, neighborhood youth in trouble and low neighborhood attachment (Decker & Curry, 2002). From a family perspective, the family structure, parental attitude, lack of parental bonding, low household income, having a sibling with antisocial behavior and poor family management were indicators of becoming a gang member. From the individual perspective, contributing factors included substance abuse, child abuse, poor academic performance (Decker & Curry, 2002). Academic failure is noted as being another one of the predictors for gang involvement (Hill et al., 1999). A study of middle school students demonstrated how negative school experiences correlated to gang involvement (Dishion, Nelson, & Yasui, 2005). Those students who adapted well to school and were succeeding academically steered away from the students who were failing. As a result the failing students formed an alliance and developed deviant behaviors which led to joining a gang (Dishion et al., 2005).
Family dynamics is of major importance in the development of delinquent behavior. Individuals who experience ongoing or frequent domestic violence between their parents or guardians, parental substance abuse and negative family interactions with the police are more likely to join a gang (Hill et al., 1999). Families who have generational gang membership leave little room for their children not to engage in the gang lifestyle. Jankowski (1991) agreed that the family structure and breakdown is a key factor in why youth choose to join a gang and that the family is the strongest influence in directing a child’s life and choices. Individuals who have peers who engage in delinquent behavior and who view this type of antisocial behavior as acceptable are more like to engage in delinquent behaviors (Hill et al., 1999).
Equally important are the community risk factors. Communities where there is easy access to drugs, low attachment to the neighborhood, a transient population, or the community is at odds with the police and favor antisocial behavior pose a great risk to the youth (Hill et al., 1999). The SDDP study further indicated that the highest community risk factors occur when marijuana is available and there is a significant number of delinquent youth (Hill et al., 1999).
Socioeconomic characteristics also factor into gang affiliation (Dishion, Nelson, & Yasui, 2005; Esbensen, 2000; (Howell, 1997). A family’s low socioeconomic status does not guarantee that the child will end up in a gang. However, it is another risk factor that increases the likelihood of a child joining a gang (Tita, Cohen, & Engberg, 2005). There is a stigma attached to asking for assistance and many families attempt to make do with their low income. Many of the poor seek other means to survive. The youth want what others have and will find alternative ways of obtaining what they want. Individuals who are gang involved often seek methods to obtain capital gains usually through the illegal sales of narcotics and other illegitimate activities Membership in a gang provides them with an opportunity to improve their finances. The choice is often made without realizing the severity of the consequences. This often means participating in illegal and criminal activities which provides the opportunity to make money.
Gang infested communities, child abuse and neglect, poor neighborhood attachment, drugs and economics all play a role in fostering delinquency. The importance of intervention and prevention is critical to the survival of the child, family, as well as the community.
Prevention and Intervention Programs
To combat the very real and urgent concerns of gangs, intervention and prevention program are critical. Often youth growing up in a gang infested community with no guidance, maltreatment, parental absence/incapacity due to incarceration or substance abuse, unsupportive home life, witnessing and experiencing violence, availability of weapons, truancy, low economic status, oppression and discrimination are risk factors that contributes to one choosing the gang lifestyle. A number of programs were developed to assist in reducing and intervening in the growth of gang membership. Such programs are geared towards prevention, intervention and suppression.
Prevention program goal is to prevent gang membership starting as early as grade school. Intervention programs target those individuals who are already engaged in gangs. Suppression program are developed by law enforcement and are focused on suppressing gang activity. The collaboration of all three programs results in the formation of a comprehensive program which has been proven to be the best strategy in combating the gang problem (McGloin, 2005).
Research has shown that evidence-based programs have been found to be effective based on careful evaluations and successful and measureable outcomes. These programs have demonstrated that utilizing specific approaches when working with certain populations can positively impact important social problems.
The Gang Resistance Education and Training (G.R.E.A.T) program is a example of a prevention program. The G.R.E.A.T. program is a school-based preventive program presented in the classroom and geared towards middle school students. The program is a 9 hour curriculum based program taught by law enforcement. The G.R.E.A.T program purpose is to reduce gang involvement and delinquent behaviors, teach the consequences of gang involvement, and encourage the development of positive relationship with law enforcement.
Evaluation of the G.R.E.A.T program yield modest results. The evaluation survey was initially administered to students when they were in the 7th grade and annually through the 11th grade. The program demonstrated a reduction in risk factors associated with gang membership and delinquent behaviors. The youth were less likely to associate with negative peers and gangs, and were able to change their perception of law enforcement and change their risk-seeking behaviors. The program met two of its objectives, better relationship with law enforcement and a greater awareness of the consequences of gang membership and associations. The third objective, reduction in gang membership and delinquent behavior, was not met. However, four years after the delivery of the program, results also indicate that program participants versus non-participants show 7% less victimization; 5% difference in negative views about gang; 5% difference in positive attitude towards law enforcement; 5% difference in risk-seeking behaviors, and 4% difference in prosocial peer involvement (Esbensen, 2004). These results are consistent with risk-focused delinquency prevention research and protective factors that buffer children from delinquent behaviors. The results further indicate that risk-focused delinquency prevention can encourage the development of healthy behaviors. Overall, the G.R.E.A.T program does benefit the participants by educating youth on the negative outcomes of gang involvement and the development of positive attitude towards law enforcement. However, it does little to curtail gang membership or future delinquency.
An emergency room intervention program was developed by a non-profit group in Oakland, Calfornia. Caught in the Crossfire is a program focused on reducing gang-related youth violence and death. Included in the staff were former violence victims who provided support from the initial hospitalization to their release from the hospital. Services included identifying the needs of each participant, retaliation prevention and reintegration into the community. Evaluation of the program outcomes revealed that 70% of the participants were less likely to be arrested and 60% were less likely to be involved in criminal activity in comparison to those youth who did not partake in the program (McGloin, 2005). This program suggests that a peer-base intervention program, immediately or soon after the youth is violently injured, will reduce future criminal involvement.
The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) developed the Comprehensive Gang Model program based on research conducted by Dr. Irving Spergel at the University of Chicago in the early 1990’s (Office of Juvenile, 2010). Dr. Spergel and his research team conducted a nation-wide assessment of agency and community responses to the gang problems that exists in the United States. This assessment was an attempt to identify all promising community gang programs and evaluate the components that were essential to the success of each program. From Dr. Spergel’s empirical research emerged five strategies: 1) community mobilization, 2) social intervention, 3) provision of opportunities, 4) suppression, and 5) organizational change (Office of Juvenile, 2010). These five strategies were used in the initial implementation of the Comprehensive Gang Model.
In 1993, Dr. Spergel initial model was first tested in a Chicago low-income neighborhood. The program named the Little Village Gang Violence Reduction Program and the primary goal was to reduce gang violence among those already involved in gangs. The program targeted individual gang members of two of the most violent gangs in the area. The gang members were 17 – 24 years old. The program was comprised of outreach youth workers who were former gang members. The youth workers were charged with diffusing gang conflict and encouraging members to leave the gang. Outreach activities included crisis intervention, counseling referral services and suppression (Office of Juvenile, 2010). Evaluation of the program revealed the following findings: 1) reduction in serious violent and property crimes, 2) effective with older, more violent gang members, 3) reduction in active gang involvement which decreased criminal activity, 4) improved educational and employment status, 5) fewer violent and drug arrest, 6) no significant effect on total minor crime arrests, 7) program was less effective on the targeted gangs as a whole and, 8) significant reduction in the overall gang crime and violence in Little Village during the program period (Office of Juvenile, 2010). The overall evaluation suggest that social intervention may be more effective in reducing violent behavior among young gang members and the combination of social intervention and suppression is more effective with older gang members (Office of Juvenile, 2010). Changing criminal involvement of gang members was most effective when law enforcement, outreach workers and social interventions engaged in successful collaboration.
In 1995 Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention launched its five initial demonstration sites to implement the Comprehensive Gang Model were Mesa, AZ; Riverside, CA; Bloomington-Normal, IL; San Antonia, TX; and Tucson, AZ (Office of Juvenile, 2010). The model has a total of 18 components (City/County Leadership, Steering Committee, Interagency Street Team/Coordination, Grassroots involvement, Social Services, Criminal Justice, School, Employment and Training, Lead Agency, Social Intervention, Community Mobilization, Provisions of Social Opportunities, Suppression, Organizational Change and Development, Targeting Gang Members/At-Risk Gang Youth, Balance of Service, Intensity of Service and Continuity of Services) (Office of Juvenile, 2010). Although each of the demonstration sites did not adhere to the 18 elements of the model, most had successful outcomes ranging from highly skilled lead agency who were committed to social interventions services; reduction of serious and non-serious arrests and, well integrated services. The Bloomington-Normal program did not adhere to the model, failed to implement key elements and relied heavily on suppression; therefore the program was not effective. San Antonio program had problems with management which hindered efforts to establish and intervention team and outreach services. The evaluation noted that law enforcement, local agencies and grassroots groups did not fully support the model which accounted for poor outcomes. In summary, these evaluations show the importance of assessing the target population, locating appropriate service, having the support of the entire community and ensuring a balance of services is key to developing a successful comprehensive gang program.
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