Gang Membership Prevention
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and NIJ collaborated on a book that focuses on promising principles for gang membership prevention. This NIJ Conference Panel discusses the risk and protective factors that influence gang membership as well as efforts to reduce such factors. Panelists also explored the direction of gang research for the future.
Louis Tuthill: My name is Louis Tuthill. I'm a social science analyst for the Department of Justice, National Institute of Justice, and I am the gang person in the OJP.
I started at NIJ two years ago, and Phelan Wyrick, who spoke in an earlier session today, handed me this really cool project: to work with the Centers for Disease Control [and Prevention] on violence prevention to write a book on gangs that was focused at the practitioner. And so we got some of the best gang minds in the world to come around the table and talk about how do we reduce gang membership, looking at the home, looking at the community, looking at schools; and sometime next year, that publication will be out, but it's been quite an undertaking moving people who write for researchers to move that language to write for practitioners.
And Nancy Ritter, who works for the Department of Justice, National Institute of Justice, has been a great help to me and to this group in editing chapters and making sure that we can write to the practitioner audience.
I'm going to not talk very much longer. I want to introduce this great group of people who came out today to speak to you. To my immediate right is Buddy Howell. Buddy has been doing gang research since —
James Buddy Howell: '75.
Tuthill: 1975. I won't tell you how old I was then, Buddy.
Howell: Don't try.
Tuthill: And he … at one time, there were two gang research centers. The Bureau of Justice Assistance had a gang center and OJJDP had a gang center, and in their great wisdom, they finally decided to merge these two gang centers together. And Buddy is the senior research associate at the National Gang Center.
To his right is Jorja Leap. Jorja works in my old neighborhood, Los Angeles. She has worked with Mayor Villaraigosa in reducing gang issues in the city of Los Angeles, and she is — an associate professor at UCLA? — associate professor at UCLA.
And to her right is somebody I'd like to introduce: Gretchen Shappert. She is the Project Safe Neighborhoods anti-gang coordinator for the Executive Office of U.S. Attorneys, and Gretchen is kind enough on an almost weekly basis to put up with me talking about science every day.
Gretchen C.F. Shappert: Daily, daily.
Tuthill: She has been great to work with as we move forward to try to put these initiatives and put science-based initiatives into reducing gang and gang violence.
I'm going to have Gretchen come up first and talk about the importance of gang issues and that we apply evidence-based research to gang issues from the President and the Attorney General.
Gretchen C.F. Shappert: Let me just say, in this room, I'm outgunned and I'm outclassed, and I know it. So I'm not going to talk very long, but, Louis, I appreciate that.
And my work with performance-based measures is relatively new in my career. I was the United States Attorney down in Charlotte, North Carolina, Western District of North Carolina, and before that, I was a gang prosecutor. I was the first anti-gang coordinator in my district, and I have prosecuted the Outlaws motorcycle gang; Sex, Money and Murder out of New York; and a lot of street gangs. So my experience is as a practitioner prosecuting.
When I came to work in the department last year, I quickly got to know Louis and the vital role of the National Institute of Justice, because, as we heard at lunch today from Laurence Tribe, this administration is all about performance-based practices, and I totally appreciate that.
The mission of the Department of Justice has got to be rigorous. It's got to be evidence-based, and the challenge we have now with so many initiatives out there is to make sure that we're holding them accountable and making sure that we are giving the American taxpayers and our communities the best that we can give them based upon rigorous science. And that's why I am so excited about this particular panel, because it's one thing to measure how many convictions you get. It's quite another to measure performance-based practices in something as challenging as prevention in the world of gangs.
So, with that, I want to turn it over to the panel to talk about the book that they're writing, underscoring that this administration is all about making sure that we really do use the science to make sure that we move the mission forward, so thank you.
James Buddy Howell: I'm really privileged to be working on the introductory chapter for this book with the goal in mind of explaining why gang membership's a problem and what's being done but, more importantly, why it's so hard to do anything about gang prevention in a systematic way. So I'm going to spend most of the time talking about that, and then on what's being done to prevent it, I'm going to go lightly on that and present a framework for engaging communities, empowering them to address their own gang problem. So I think it has a lot of practical application. And then Jorja will talk about programs, and she's quite an expert on that. So that's the way we'll proceed, and then we'll invite questions at the end. There will be plenty of time, I assure you.
I want to show you the best data that we have on the national trend with respect to gang problems in the United States, and here, we are referring to the survey of the National Youth Gang Center — the National Youth Gang Survey, I should say, that's now sponsored by the National Gang Center and funded by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention and the Bureau of Justice Assistance. This is a nationally representative sample, and I just wanted to point out that there are four sub samples.
We surveyed law enforcement agencies in the United States every year and have been since 1996. So I want to show you the data from this survey. What it shows is that going back to 1996, our first nationally representative survey, we see that that was the peak level of gang activity in the United States, and we know from earlier work, that wasn't systematic in terms of annual surveys, but what various surveys — sponsored by NIJ mainly — what they show is that the reported gang activity among the states more than doubled from the period in the 1970s to the 1990s. So the mid 1990s was about the peak in reported gang activity, and you see it dropped to 2001 and has been increasing slowly since, with an increase of about 15 percent in jurisdictions that report gang activity.
We don't impose a definition on jurisdictions because half the states, approximately, have their own definition. So they're going to give you the data that they collect, regardless of how you try and change it with a definition. So that's the general pattern.
Interestingly, this trend is corroborated by data from the National [Crime] Victimization Survey in which students are asked — the School Crime Supplement of the NCVS. The students are asked “Is there gang activity as your school?” and those data show a similar trend. From the mid '90s, when 28 percent of the students said there was gang activity, to about 1999, here, similar to the dropping point in the law enforcement survey, when 17 percent of the students said there was gang activity in their schools, and it's been increasing since, up to 23 percent, almost to the previous level, in mid '90s, so you see the similar trend line. So this is good independent but albeit rough approximation of the measures.
So it's clear that the gang problem is increasing, but there are other important dimensions to it, which explains why this book is being developed. In our National Youth Gang Survey, one-third of all — across all of those samples — of the respondents reported gang activity in 2008. That's a lot of places, approximately 3,000 places in the United States, and in that student survey, as I said, 23 percent, so that's about one out of every five schools. And one out of 10 youth say that they belong to a gang, almost, in the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth.
And in high-risk areas, gang activity membership is higher. For example, 17 percent in Denver, 32 percent in Rochester — in those high-risk areas. So a lot of kids are joining gangs. They don't tend to stay very long. The majority drop out within a year, except in areas where there are inter generational gangs. So it's very important to pay attention to gang membership because of these prevalence data.
Back to our National Youth Gang Survey, I want to make a point about that, and that is, when you look at those subpopulation groups, this is cities over 50,000 here in the top line, and then the next group is suburban counties and then smaller cities under 25 … between 25 and 50,000 population, and then rural counties. So you see a similar trend, except that the trend is much more pronounced in these smaller jurisdictions. Not much has changed in the largest cities. In fact, cities over 250,000 population report gangs every year, and they have for many years.
So, even though you may see some fluctuation in the outlying areas, gang activity remains a serious problem, and that's in the major cities. And that's where most of the gangs and gang members are located.
I want to contrast those two areas, the largest cities and then the smaller areas: suburban, small towns and rural areas. If we knew how gangs formed, we would be able to engage communities in prevention in those smaller jurisdictions. The gangs are largely inter generational in some large cities, not all but particularly in New York and Los Angeles and Chicago and several other cities now they're inter generational, but they've long been inter generational in those two. So that's a different pattern. The gangs are pretty stable there, but in those smaller areas, they are constantly developing, reforming, disappearing, and so it's hard to identify the gangs, and it's hard to get a handle on what they're doing.
If we knew more about how gangs form, that would help us an awful lot. We don't have much research in this area, but we know that they form at school among small groups of alienated, rebellious students that are alienated from school and from their families, and in communities, conflict groups; in public gathering places, play groups often develop into gangs and other groups that are in conflict. So that is something we need to pay attention to in our prevention effort, is where those gangs are forming, and to be able to separate the more persistent gangs from those that are unstable.
Only about — this is a rough estimate, very little research — but approximately one out of 10 gangs survives. Most of them in those small towns, rural areas, do not have the traction and the conditions, necessary conditions to survive, but I want to contrast that situation with these inter generational areas, such as Los Angeles. Here is brilliant research by Diego Vigil in a 1993 chapter he wrote on the established gangs, one of the best publications in the history of gang work, in my estimation.
He describes how kids get into an established gang and become a part of it, and I found these seven steps in that chapter. So it helps us to understand what we need to do to intervene with prevention and early intervention programs. Just think about this. Where there are established gangs in a community, before a kid gets to middle school where gangs begin to show up, kids in elementary school hear about those gangs in the community. They have a reputation. They're getting a lot of attention, and then when the kid arrives at middle school, he sees them, and it validates their existence: “Oh, they're for real. I need to pay attention.”
Well, there are other cliques that the kid must cope with at school, and if this particular kid is vulnerable from family problems and alienated from the family and the school, then they're more likely to be drawn to a clique that can offer them some comfort and protection. So, when intergroup conflicts increase at school, then the kid notices that the gang seems to provide some protection.
Then Diego Vigil points out that maybe it's casual associations, a chance bonding. Say the kid is walking home from school, and the gang members are about to do some shoplifting, and he's been kind of hanging out with them on the schoolyard. So they say, “Oh, come along. Come along.” And then he's become involved in criminal activity with the gang, and some bonding begins to take place.
So, fearing other groups in the schoolyard and in the community and then feeling this bond, then initiation is not far away for a lot of kids, so that's kind of a natural process. So we have to think about how to intervene in those steps to break that cycle, not an easy thing in those established areas, particularly because the gangs offer a lot of attractions.
Here are the major ones from the National Gang Resistance Education and Training Evaluation by Finn Esbensen and colleagues mainly and also from the Rochester study. For protection is the main reason. It's illustrating the point I just made there in that seven-step process, but it's often a social event. There are several indicators that gangs are primarily a social attraction: family members or friends are already in the gang, fun, other social reasons, be around girls, be around boys, develop an identity, get some respect, maybe an opportunity to make money —that's not as prominent as the media often suggests. It's usually a social kind of event, and gang joining is a very gradual thing.
And, again, Ron Huff discovered this in an Ohio study that it may take a couple of years before a kid actually joins. So it's a gradual process of association, and it turns out in new research that about half of the kids who display signs or hang out a bit with gang members or wear their colors never join. So that makes it all the more difficult to identify those that are bona fide gangs from those that aren't, and this is important because there are very serious consequences to gang joining.
This attraction that the gang holds for kids is like a mirage where there are serious gangs, increased involvement in violence, a cascading series of difficulties over the life course, coming from the Rochester longitudinal study, beginning with dropout and then unemployment, drug use, then abuse and difficulties all throughout the life course.
A greater risk of violent victimization. The kids who join gangs are ordinarily involved in a bit of delinquency when they join — before they join — but when they join, their level of delinquency and violence increases two or three times and then continues while they're in the gang and then decreases after they drop out of the gang. So that's both discouraging and encouraging; discouraging from the sense that we can expect violence when those serious gangs are present, and it's something that binds the kids together. The gang reinforces the violence. It's encouraging from the standpoint that they can be pulled out because the majority, overwhelming majority don't stay more than two years — as I said, about half drop out in the first year. So they can be pulled out. So that gives us some source of encouragement.
The other reasons that it's so important to look at these consequences is that over the delinquent career, those with six or more offenses over their lifetime cost society and victims between 4.2 and 7.2 million in cost. We're talking about total criminal justice system cost, cost to victims and knifed-off productivity of the individuals themselves. So, if they have a career in crime, that is the average cost, but it may be higher for gang members because they're more active. They're more violent than non-gang, serious, violent, chronic delinquents.
So we're on the right track here. We need early interventions that target high-risk youth. These can really have a high payoff if they are effective and if we can succeed in intervening early, so that's quite a challenge to this group.
As to how communities are addressing this problem, I want to just show you one example here, this broad framework that I mentioned earlier, this comprehensive gang prevention, intervention and suppression model that OJJDP has developed, beginning with a national assessment of gang problems and programs back in 1987, and out of that research and development work evolved this comprehensive gang model.
It encourages prevention to reduce those that join the gang, intervention to remove active members from the gang with outreach work, and suppression to target the more violent gangs and gang members. So you need to map all of these gangs that are in the community and target them with five strategies that are essential to the comprehensive gang model, beginning with mobilization, organizational change, targeting and so on.
One way of thinking about this is to look at the windows of opportunity in the community to intervene. This is not something I made up. This is what the research shows, that among those kids who later join a gang, that developmental process begins way back here in the family, in dysfunctional families, and are evident in conduct problems. And then the kid goes to school, and these kids are more likely to have problems in school, in elementary school failure. Then the peer group kicks in and involvement in delinquency. So the child is on a pathway, on a trajectory of worsening behavior that is kicked off by a troubled dysfunctional family, and then the problem becomes exacerbated at school and in the community. And the kid is, meanwhile, increasingly involved in delinquency, and that's why the kid in the seven steps was more attracted to the gang than you might otherwise expect.
So it's going to take a continuum of prevention programs to reduce the number that are becoming higher risk and at greater likelihood of joining a gang, intervention with them, the high-risk kids and also gang members, to try and pull them out of the gang, and then suppression, working hand in hand with prevention and intervention, because they need a lot of control in their lives, among those who are involved in gangs, because they've had very little. So suppression can be very effective, as we've seen in the research on the comprehensive gang model.
So what to do: First thing to do is to conduct your own assessment of your gang problem. Don't pay any attention to what the media say about gangs coming out of L.A. or Chicago and migrating all over the country and setting up drug-trafficking operations. That happens sometimes, of course, but it's not the predominant matter, the way that gangs develop. They primarily are homegrown. They grow in these conditions I've just described, of dysfunctional families, schools that are ineffective and alienating kids.
It's helpful to start with a practical definition because, if you use a media guide, you'll be looking for all types of gangs, and you may not be sure what you're looking for, but look for those. You look for those youthful groups and see how they're connected to the older street gangs, and this definition is very simple and very useful, but you need to reach consensus as to how your community is going to define a gang and how you're going to use that definition to guide your assessment.
And then this is the next important part of that assessment: You need to identify the target groups for prevention, intervention and suppression. So you're looking for the youth with elevated risk factors for gang joining and the gang-involved offenders for intervention and the violent gangs and violent chronic offenders for suppression, and you also want to find out where they are active, the main locations, where the gangs are active, is it around the schools or other community settings, what are the gang crime hot spots, the frequency and types of crimes that are being committed that need to be targeted by your juvenile justice and criminal justice system.
So the identification of those groups should come out of the assessment that you conduct. Then you've determined your own gang problem, and now you're ready to develop a continuum of interventions.
And this is a very simple one that Phelan Wyrick at OJP developed that's been adopted in the Project Safe Neighborhoods model, beginning with primary prevention, working with all youth, and then secondary prevention with high-risk youth and then intervention team with outreach, working with the gang-involved youth, and then targeting suppression on the violent and chronic offenders. So, if you're working on all these fronts at the same time, then you have a much better chance of giving prevention a chance to work. You need to take the pressure off of the organizations in the community by targeting your resources better in those areas where the gang problems are most prevalent.
Two in particular are the family setting. You already knew that from the research I showed you earlier. The markers, we would say early childhood aggression and disruptive behaviors — that's indicated in the longitudinal studies. As young as age 10 or thereabouts, kids who become aggressive on the streets and with others are at higher risk, and they come from the most dysfunctional families, indicated especially by poor parental supervision and control. So that is one setting where you want to target your resources. Again, think about that developmental process that I laid out.
Then the school setting comes into play next, and the best markers there, we're seeing from more recent studies, are those difficult schools identified in a French study. They characterized them as difficult schools with a small cadre of highly rebellious students who are alienated from their parents and families and alienated from school, and they're suspended and expelled often, put out on the street. And without alternative programs, what do you think is going to happen? Duh.
Howell: So it's a no-brainer if there are gangs in the community and if the conflict develops among these groups, so those are key conditions.
Finally, these are the key features of the most successful comprehensive gang initiatives using this comprehensive gang model in other studies. What the research is cumulatively showing is that community-wide initiatives with broad community involvement in the planning and delivery of interventions, including tying your delinquency prevention programs together with your gang programs. Rely on them to do the heavy lifting early on to reduce delinquency and reduce the risk factors among kids in the community, and then outreach support and services coordinated by an intervention team. That is really key for working with the active gang members.
We have these resources online at the National Gang Center. Here's the URL. You don't need to start from scratch. Here's the guide to assessing your community's youth gang problem, and here's the planning and implementation manual, best practices; experience with the Comprehensive Gang Model and summary of the research is there in this best practices guide, and then we have a strategic planning tool online that Jorja is going to talk about to help enable you to go through these steps. So you don't have to start from scratch, and the only paper you'll generate will be assessment profiles you bring to your meetings and in your continuum-building work as well.
So that's the … it's a framework. It's not a panacea. It's not a magic bullet, but it's a strategic planning framework that communities have benefited from a lot.
Jorja Leap: I should probably explain very briefly two things about my background. I'm an anthropologist, and gang members are my tribe. I have sort of lived among them nationally and internationally for the past 30 years, and I kind of backed into evaluation research. And I don't see myself so much as a researcher as a translator, and what I mean is there are incredible academicians that do rigorous scientific work, and then there are folk in the community that are practitioners, and in between, there's this kind of gap. And, basically, folk in the community want to know what works, but they don't want to sit down and read what's been written about it, and they also want researchers to know what they're doing.
Now, the other part of this is when I'm asked to evaluate a program, people don't want to talk about randomized groups and assignment. They generally want me to write an evaluation that's good, so they can apply for more funding, and that is one of the single biggest challenges we face in doing community-based evaluation.
The folk in the community want to do what they're doing to help people, and they say, “Go away. Don't bother me with this. We just want money to help people,” and that is something I think we all have to keep in mind as we do research and evaluation in our communities and look at what works in terms of prevention and intervention. We have to remember the folk out there are trying to help.
Now, having said that, we have tools at our disposal that can help them and also add to this incredible fund of knowledge that is out there. So what I'm going to share with you is what I have learned as I have done evaluation. Keep in mind this is going to be one chapter of this amazing volume that's going to look at everything from women in gangs, family, what occurs in different groups. It's going to take into account a number of policy issues.
What I'm going to talk with you about today is community, gangs and prevention. Very much like Buddy, I'm going to give you some of my thinking and then open it up to questions, which I think are the most relevant part of what we're going to do here.
All right. Now, one of the biggest things is vocabulary. There are words that are thrown around without us knowing or agreeing upon what we're doing, and one of the major kind of differences comes between criminal justice folk and public health folk, which is why it's so great this book is a joint venture between the NIJ and the CDC.
We need to know what we're talking about when we mean prevention, and prevention is divided into two categories. It was already shown in the pyramid that Phelan shared with us this morning, that Buddy showed once again. At the bottom is the community, and the community is where what we call primary prevention occurs.
Now, primary prevention is directed at decreasing risk factors and increasing protective factors. We'll talk about what those are in a moment, but I think there is a very important issue here. These are also strategies that are aimed at strengthening what already exists in these communities, especially something we talk about, social capital, and I also want to put out there the idea of community resilience.
I am so tired and I know many of us are so tired of communities being pathologized. It's a gang community. It's a gang-impacted community. It's a hot spot. And I have used these terms. I am the first guilty party.
We talk about disenfranchised communities. We talk about poor communities. I've got a newsflash: Those communities have strengths. They have problems; they have challenges; they have strengths.
Primary prevention looks not only at the risks but at those strengths, and I'm going to talk about that in a few moments, but we need to keep that in mind. Otherwise, we run the risk of seeing these as problem communities and a whole bunch of wrong strategies evolve as a result, and by the time evaluators and researchers come in, it's been bent so severely, we're often just picking up the pieces.
Now, that's community prevention, community, primary, at the community level, risk factors, protective factors. Secondary prevention is also critical. I like to think of this and I like to characterize it as early intervention. Primary prevention is community-wide. Secondary prevention is very individually based. If you want to think of secondary prevention, you need to think about the at-risk kids, and I am here to tell you, as I live and breathe after 30 years with my tribe or my tribes, I can tell you this is sort of where there needs to be secondary prevention in the worst way, if we catch these kids — and, by the way, I use the word “kids”; I will also say “young men” and “young women,” because they are of both genders.
Do not kid yourselves. Young women gangbang, and, frankly, there's a lot of people in the field who are a lot more scared of female gangbangers than male gangbangers. They are a small percentage of the population. They are growing, and they are just not the baby mamas and the girlfriends of gang members. They are gang members who have been jumped in of their own right.
Now, these young men and young women need to be intervened with at this critical point in their lives. That is secondary prevention. So you can see that I think of it as early intervention.
Now, also important here, it needs to deliver services that are age appropriate. They need to be age appropriate. You'll see later on, we talk about culture and gender, and age appropriateness is critical.
I'm going to move backwards for one moment and tell you probably one of the most important forms of primary prevention, community-based prevention, is early childhood education and early childhood intervention, but as children grow, we need to design secondary prevention strategies and evaluate them in ways that are age appropriate for each stage of development.
Now, you'll see there, the fourth and a very important point is most of the evidence-based and promising programs offer strategies that are based on this model. Now, this is both a blessing and a curse. There has been some excellent evaluation of secondary prevention programs, but there has not been as extensive evaluation of primary prevention programs. So this is where there has been a great start in terms of promising program and model program evaluation. There needs to be more, and what needs to be added to it is the evaluation of primary prevention programs.
Just as I talked about not knowing the difference between primary and secondary prevention, there's a lot of mixed and misunderstanding of prevention and related concepts. I cannot tell you how many rooms I have been in where people talk about intervention, and if you go person by person, not one person knows what the other person is talking about. Some people talk about intervention in Los Angeles, and they talk about Boston and the Boston cease fire model and the Chicago cease fire model, and what they're talking about is street intervention. Other people talk about intervention, and they mean more long-term intervention and re-entry services.
There are all kinds of mixed and misunderstandings about terminology. One of the major things we need in gang membership prevention is a shared set of concepts and terminology, and these must be shared and understood by everybody. Criminal justice, public health, law enforcement, and, oh, by the way, did I mention the public at large? Because many, many times people do not understand what these terms mean. In addition, policymakers are often extremely fuzzy about what these terms mean. We need clarity of definition.
One of the major things Buddy just did that is so critical is he talked about how to define gang membership. There needs to be agreement about this as well, because we're sitting here in the room, we're all nodding our heads, but there are policymakers and practitioners and educators out there who are unclear as to what the words mean, what the terms are, so we need that.
Now, in terms of losing both our mixed and misunderstandings, we need to be clear about risk factors and protective factors. This is kind of my own shorthand. Risk factors motivate the gang behaviors, the likelihood of gang membership, gang wannabe behaviors. These are all the things in communities that add to it: poverty, disorganization, and, by the way, the availability of drugs and firearms.
I know I'm preaching to the choir. I know I cannot underscore this strongly enough, but I want to tell you about an exercise that I did when I was teaching a large undergraduate course at UCLA. I taught an undergraduate course. I had 400 students, and I thought I would do a little experiment about the availability of firearms.
How many of you have been to Los Angeles? Great. You know Los Angeles is an urban sprawl. You know UCLA is located in Bel Air. It's not what we would call a disenfranchised neighborhood. Most of the students who attend there are not disenfranchised individuals. I had 400 undergraduates, and I said, “Your class project is to bring to me an illegal firearm. The first person who brings an illegal firearm to me will receive an A in the class.” I wanted to see how long it would take a group of 400 suburban undergraduate students at UCLA to acquire illegal firearms.
The first gun showed up at my office eight minutes after class was over. If anybody doubts that that's a risk factor — and, by the way, I did have the cooperation of the LAPD. They did come and take all the guns away. I don't want you to get excited. The campus attorney warned me not to do such an experiment again.
Leap: But I can tell you —
Audience Member 1: How many guns did you get?
Audience Member 1: How many guns did you get?
Leap: I got 425 guns. Some students wanted extra credit.
Leap: And I found that absolutely … I found that finding not … there was no controlled research. I found that to be a stunning finding in terms of this population, and, by the way, they were all illegal. They were not registered. They had numbers filed off, the whole nine yards. Those are our risk factors. The guns are out there. The drugs are out there.
The other risk factor that Buddy touched on that I did not add to my list are the schools, the schools, and did I say the schools? Because when we have public schools — and private schools, by the way — in states of disorganization and chaos, we also have risk factors.
Now, the protective factors are what, in fact, inoculate children and youth against gang memberships, and we will be getting into these in terms of gang membership prevention. If you look there, it is obvious. There is one that I really want to stress, and we're going to go into this, which is positive relationships. And people say, “Well, of course, positive relationships,” but the question is how do we implement those and how do we evaluate those in community-based gang prevention. I want you to store that away in the back of your mind. We're going to be returning to it in a case study in a matter of moments.
These are the factors we need to talk about. These are the factors we need to speak to with practitioners, with policymakers, and when we do evaluation of prevention, we need to look at how both are addressed. These are some of the most important factors as we build and do research on prevention programs.
Now, this is what I call “prevention's greatest hits.” As part of writing this chapter for this book, I went through copious amounts of reports, research — some of it very well done, some of it, you know, barely quotable — looking at varied programs and what they all had in common when they were promising or model practices.
I relied upon OJJDP and also the Center for the Study of the Prevention of Violence in Colorado, and I came up with … and I don't think … you know, once again, nobody argues with motherhood or fatherhood. I don't think anybody is going to disagree with this menu of services. I can tell you that prevention, to the extent that it effectively — and let me underline “effectively” — integrates these services — and putting them up in a bunch of little boxes isn't enough — there has to be effective collaboration, but this is the menu of what we need.
And let me tell you there are some important provisos there. For example, if you go dead center, take a look, it says “parental or family.” Dear God, I'm sorry to tell you there are times we cannot always involve the parents. There are times when the parents are our most important allies. There are also times when the parents are toxic. But he touched on the idea of multi generational gangs.
I can tell you that with some of the gang members that I have tracked over 30 years, I am shockingly now into a fifth generation of gang involvement, and when you talk about a prevention challenge, that is a major prevention challenge. That is the core menu of services. We need everybody at the table, but it is not enough simply to have everybody at the table to prevent gang membership. That is not going to do the trick alone.
Even if you have that core menu, even if you had the best-intentioned of services, what have we learned from myriad efforts at gang membership prevention? And I will be happy to provide you with a list. OJJDP has a fantastic series of resources on their website. I'm talking about everything from Communities That Care to the Boys and Girls Clubs of America. I am talking … I looked at the GREAT program. I looked at evaluation that was done throughout the country and even across the border into Canada.
Here are some of the lessons learned. You'll have to read the NIJ/CDC book to learn everything, but here are some of the highlights.
First of all, it's an old social work adage: “Don't take something away without putting something in its place.” If you forget everything I say to you today, you can remember this. Effective programs do everything a gang does, only they do it in a pro-social member. You want to know how to prevent gang membership? Give a youth something enticing in its place. It is that simple, and it is that difficult. And, by the way, I am going to talk in a little bit about some evaluation research we are undertaking to study precisely this.
Now, the second point is something I have encountered in my own evaluation work. I have seen several wonderful school-based programs, and they ended with the ringing of the school bell. They were wonderful as long as school was in session, and as soon as school was over, there was no continuity into the street or into the summer.
Probably one of the most heartbreaking encounters I ever had was I was funded to evaluate a program called Youth Lead in east and south Los Angeles. It took place at two major high-risk middle schools, right the age that Buddy outlined in the pyramid, right where we see the kids are kind of at that — I hate to use the phrase, but I'll use it — right where kids are at the tipping point. They could go in; they could stay out.
These kids had a fabulous in-school program, and I would walk with the kids after school, and there would be members of the Grape Street Crips at Markham Middle School waiting to pick the kids up after school. The same way mothers and fathers wait in carpool, these gang members — and they were active gang members; I knew who they were, I knew what they were — and they were waiting to pick up these kids. There were also members from Florencia waiting to pick up some of the Latino and Latina … the children there.
The same exact thing was happening at Hollenbeck Middle School in east Los Angeles, where I would see individuals who are part of Cuatro Flats and Tiny Boys waiting to pick up the kids after they had been in their wonderful gang prevention program in school.
We cannot end with the ringing of the school bell. There has to be the seamless application of services.
We have a similar thing occur in Los Angeles. There is a tremendous program right now, Summer Night Lights. They open up parks. They have functions until midnight. They have midnight basketball. They have barbecues. They bring the community together, and then it ends at Labor Day. And Los Angeles stays pretty warm year-round, and yet community members and at-risk youth feel like the circus comes to town, and then it leaves after Labor Day. We cannot have this. There has to be program continuity and evaluation continuity. Age, culture and gender are extremely appropriate. We need to have tailored programs now.
Attachment. Attachment is fuzzy, and yet we know from the menu of services that I just showed to you, the kind of prevention's greatest hits, we need to both provide and evaluate mentors and attachment figures. Not enough has been done. Some has been done, not enough. It is a major point of interest, a major point of concern and a major point of longitudinal change.
Finally, another lesson learned: community or primary prevention. This is not evaluated to the extent it should be. There have been two major evaluations. One is of the Communities That Care program. The other is CASASTART. Both have done … both are community-based, primary prevention programs that show excellent results when at-risk kids are compared with a control group in terms of their long-term behaviors when kids are given … when kids and communities are subjected to primary prevention. Nevertheless, it is difficult to do the evaluation of a community-based prevention program.
Now, I keep saying I want to talk with you about the research that we have been doing. At UCLA, two years ago, we undertook the beginning of what we are proposing will be a five-year longitudinal study of Homeboy Industries. Now, Homeboy Industries is very well known. It's the longtime gang … and it bills itself as an intervention program. It began in east Los Angeles through the efforts of a Jesuit priest, Father Greg Boyle, who recently published a book about his experiences, which I would urge you to read. It's just beautiful.
And Father Boyle started with a group of mothers in Boyle Heights 20 years ago during what was termed in Los Angeles the “decade of death,” where there were, in the city of Los Angeles in one year, 1,000 gang-related homicides in the city alone. So, if you do your math, that's almost three a day.
Father Greg started very much at the grassroots level trying to get the violence to stop, and he was aided and assisted by the mothers of the community who were tired of seeing their young people die.
Now, over 20 years later, this is now a $12 million organization that serves approximately 12,000 at-risk youth and active gang members a year, and what we were very interested in drilling down into were both the active gang members and the at-risk youth — the highest part of that triangle that Buddy showed us and the level underneath. And what we found was a compelling integration of services, which is sort of represented in this pyramid.
Now, the top of the pyramid or the ultimate goal or wherever Homeboy wants to go is represented as education and/or employment. And what we found was there was, in fact … thus far, we found after two years for the success cases, there is the combination of support services, wraparound services, all the things we talk about with prevention's greatest hits, with a combination of attachment to a significant figure.
Now, we are following 300 youth, and, naturally, they all attach to Father Greg, but that is not their significant figure. They are paired with a mentor who is a former gang member, who they relate to, who propels them through the services, keeps track of them, makes sure they're enrolled in charter school, sees if there's any kind of involvement on the street. What we are finding in a very preliminary way is that there must be, in terms of secondary prevention for these at-risk youth, this combination.
Now, it's not enough to just talk about Homeboy. We need to talk about what can we learn from Homeboy and other studies that will help with the challenges to gang prevention, and this is where I'm sure you'll have questions, but I do want to go over this very briefly.
First of all, Buddy mentioned his website. I sent him what I have to confess to you was sort of a fan letter because I told him I'm just in love with this strategic planning tool. Now, one of the biggest problems I see with gang prevention is there's a whole lot of planning and very little doing, and so that's why I'm saying do not, do not, do not reinvent the wheel. It's been done. It's been done by smarter people than you and me. It's been done; it's been tested; it's been evaluated. Don't spend six months.
This is fantastic in terms of being an incredible tool and — notice in capital letters — in times of fiscal, you know, oversight, it is free. Don't reinvent the wheel. Use this. We need to go into our communities and tell people there are resources for them to get started. We also don't need to reinvent the wheel in terms of evaluation.
OJJDP and the Center for the Study of the Prevention of Violence in Colorado both do tremendous jobs in terms of evaluation. They have tools. They have protocols. They have questionnaires. They have surveys. We don't need to start from scratch. What we need to do is use the structure, use the skeleton, use what's out there and build upon it.
Now, I want to call your attention to the third point. Here's the biggest … the third and fourth points. Gang membership prevention. Remember I talked about the greatest hits? So often we have meetings. Meeting is not collaborating. Dating is not having a relationship. We need to actually work together effectively, and, by the way, evaluators are a part of this. Evaluators and researchers should never, ever be brought in at the eleventh hour as we too often are. We need to be part of the process from the beginning.
It's also important in prevention … I cannot tell you how many programs rise and fall by whether or not they include effective neighborhood partners, and not the gadflies — and we all know who they are — who show up at community meetings.
Money. Community-based prevention suffers greatly from the lack thereof. This is where, by the way, evaluation and sustainability are inextricably linked. This is where the work of evaluators and researchers must come in at the beginning, not at the end.
The way I have made many community-based organizations and faith-based organizations true believers in evaluation is to point out to them that it is in their own self-interest and in the interest of sustainability to show where their program works, to find out what does not work, and either improve it or jettison it. In this way, evaluation needs to be seen as literally part and parcel of program sustainability.
And this is the other thing with prevention. Prevention programs must be in effect for long periods of time. We yield the results of prevention five years, 10 years, 15 years. Fifteen years is a generation in the world of anthropology. We yield those results both in the short and the long term, and this is part of … remember the mixed and missed understandings. We should not look for a drop in the crime rate. We should look at the measures that are really important in terms of prevention.
I think here, by the way, we're all believers in terms of training and technical assistance. The ongoing problem with evaluation is chasing success versus chasing change. The biggest challenge we have in community-based prevention and in doing research and evaluation on it is measuring change.
I have had a belly full of people telling me that programs work because the crime rate goes down. When I worked in Nickerson Gardens and when I worked in Ramona Gardens on the ground doing ethnographic fieldwork, I would ask gangbangers why they didn't go out, and sometimes they would talk about going to church, and sometimes they would talk about the cops being around, and sometimes they would talk about a mentor from a community-based organization, and sometimes they would talk about how their girlfriend was willing to have sex with them. And those were all the reasons. Yes, you heard me say that. Those were all the reasons they did not go out. Those were all the reasons that prevented them from gangbanging.
It is a complex problem, and we need to be able to measure change effectively rather than talking about very clear measures like the crime rate or school attendance, which are important. I want the crime rate to decrease. I want the gang-related crime rate to decrease. I want the school attendance rate to increase. But we need to measure more than increases and decreases. We need to look at change, and remember we need to look at increased protective factors, decreased risk factors.
I'm also putting a little plug in here about social networking. It is an important tool in community-based prevention, including primary prevention, because, as we all know, social networking is being utilized by everybody, including street gangs. And I have street gang members who are extremely adept at social networking. I can tell you that I know some people who have been gangbangers for 10 and 12 years who are shot callers, who if they had been born in a different community or had a different family background would be sitting here or would be CEOs or might be president of the United States.
To reiterate, here's some policy issues and problem areas. With community-based prevention, the words, the words, the words; we need a common vocabulary. There is no single solution. Do not pathologize these communities. They are our partners in prevention and evaluation, and I know I'm preaching to the choir. Evaluation must be part of every effort.
And here's my caveat. This is back to my “don't reinvent the wheel.” These communities are strong. Any effective community-based prevention effort must have the grassroots involved. It will fail. It is doomed. The research is there. The ethnographic data is there. This is the reality.
And I will say primary prevention in building with the strengths in these communities, we need to build primary prevention while we maintain the vibrancy of secondary prevention. We need to build these communities and their strengths and their protective factors. We need to draw upon their cultures and their people and the faith-based community, every tool that we have, and we need to evaluate it in terms of community-based prevention.
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