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A Comparative Study of Violent Extremism and Gangs

Award Information

Award #
Funding Category
Awardee County
Prince George''s
Congressional District
Funding First Awarded
Total funding (to date)

Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2014, $639,736)

Speculation on the similarities between violent extremist groups and criminal gangs has grown in recent years. There are obvious parallels. Both groups involve illegal activities, especially violence, both are dominated mostly by young men, and both are characterized by a more decentralized organizational structure than is commonly assumed. Given that criminal justice policy makers have designed and implemented gang prevention and amelioration strategies for decades, there is hope that programs developed for gang interventions might have relevance for reducing violent extremism. Despite the promise of this analogy, there has been surprisingly little empirical research comparing the structures and processes of violent extremist groups and gangs. A major impediment to such analyses has been the lack of comparable data. In this project we provide a plan for collecting and analyzing relevant data at both quantitative and qualitative levels. On the quantitative side, we will build on the Profiles of Individual Radicalization in the United States (PIRUS) database and a life-history gang study of the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1997 (NLSY97): both of which have been supported by NIJ in the past. On the qualitative side, we add value by again building on our NIJ-funded PIRUS data which provides detailed case studies on three types of political extremists: Islamic, right- and left-wing. To provide comparable case study data we will undertake new data collection to provide life histories of gang members in five major US cities, building on our established contacts. In Phase One of the proposed project, we plan a systematic analysis of these four data bases (two quantitative and two qualitative) in order to dramatically advance the empirical basis for evaluating similarities and differences between violent extremists and gangs. In Phase Two, we will build on this empirical analysis to provide an assessment of the potential for using community-level gang prevention programs to counter violent extremism. In addition to the research benefits of a more complete understanding of these two complex forms of criminal behavior, we plan to develop policy recommendations that will provide guidance on how we can best focus limited resources on countering violent extremism. In this regard, we will take advantage of the professional networks of the three Co-PIs and also STARTs extensive transition channels to ensure that the findings from this study will be disseminated to the public, to relevant policymakers and to the academic community.

Date Created: September 14, 2014