This article outlines the themes of the book, "Changing Course: Preventing Gang Membership," which was initiated as a joint effort of the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and written by some of the Nation's top criminal justice and public health researchers.
The book discusses the prevalence and consequences of gang membership among youth. Surveys have shown that nearly 1 in 12 youth have reported belonging to a gang at some point during their teen years. Gang membership increases the risk of youth for becoming victims or perpetrators of homicide, with homicide being the second-leading cause of death for American adolescents and young adults. The book's discussion of the attractions of gangs identifies the following perceived benefits of gang membership among youth: economic opportunity; a sense of belonging and social support; the belief that gang membership offers protection at school and in the community; obtaining status among peers; and an outlet for rebellion against the norms of parents, school personnel, and a restrictive society imposed by law enforcement. The book emphasizes the importance of a public health approach in countering youth gang membership. This means a focus on describing and monitoring the public health threat of youth gangs; identifying the risk and protective factors for gang membership and associated violence; the development and evaluation of prevention strategies; and ensuring widespread implementation of prevention strategies. The role of law enforcement personnel promoted in the book is one of collaborative action with public health agencies, schools, the community, and other public and private sectors in designing and implementing gang prevention activities and services for youth. Also discussed in the book are the roles of schools, communities, and families in preventing gang membership. The roles of race, ethnicity and gender in gang appeal are also addressed. 33 notes
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