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Gangs in Rural America, Final Report

NCJ Number
Date Published
August 2001
104 pages
This study focused on reports of gang problems across communities in non-metropolitan counties.
Data were drawn from four separate sources: local police agency responses to three waves (1996 to 1998) of the National Youth Gang Surveys (NYGS), county-level economic and demographic data, a rural-urban classification and county-level measures of primary economic activity, and county-level data on access to interstate highways. Four general explanatory frameworks about rural gang development were ecological, economic deprivation, population composition, and diffusion. Findings suggested that the most consistent indicators of a gang presence in non-metropolitan counties were those reflecting social stability and the composition of the population. Gangs were more likely to be reported in jurisdictions located in counties experiencing economic growth. There was only modest support for arguments that urban gangs spread into rural areas through diffusion. Of the police agencies reporting gangs in 1997, only 41 percent indicated the presence of at least one youth gang at the time of the interview. It was likely that because both the number of gangs in any single rural jurisdiction was small, and the number of members in any single gang was also small, rural gangs were often short-lived. Indicators of a gang presence in these communities were self-identification by youth, the presence of graffiti or tattoos, affiliation with others thought to be gang members, and the wearing of gang colors. The types of problems associated with gangs ranged from graffiti to selling drugs to murder. Only 43 percent of those reporting gangs described the gang problems in their community as “serious.” The estimated number of current gang members who came into the area from another jurisdiction varied from “none” to “all of them,” but most estimates ranged between 10 and 30 percent. The most frequent agency response to gang activity was suppression through strict enforcement -- “zero tolerance.” Appendix

Date Published: August 1, 2001