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What Is the Role of Public Health in Gang-Membership Prevention?

Date Published
September 15, 2013

Gang membership has traditionally been viewed from a public safety, rather than a public health, perspective. Looking at the issue solely through a public safety lens, however, fails to leverage the extensive expertise of public health professionals who understand the impact on an individual gang member and on the health of a community.

In this chapter, public health experts describe the public health approach to violence prevention, which emphasizes:

  • Monitoring trends.
  • Researching risk and protective factors.
  • Evaluating interventions.
  • Supporting dissemination and implementation of evidence-based strategies.

Working to overcome challenges to engage public health professionals fully in preventing gang-joining is important. For example, systems for supporting and sustaining preventive interventions and programs are generally underdeveloped. More fundamentally, the idea of “prevention” often is not understood or is undervalued in our society. Consequently, society must realize the tremendous benefits of prevention if we are to overcome these barriers. The cross-disciplinary nature of public health brings partners together from different sectors and agencies, and, as a result, can help communities develop, fund, implement and evaluate a comprehensive strategy to help keep kids out of gangs. Furthermore, public health can contribute to the development of definitions, data elements and data systems that can help us understand the magnitude of the problem of gangs and gang-related violence in this country.

In the Spotlight: This chapter features an interview with Connie Rice, a civil rights lawyer and co-Director of the Advancement Project, a civil rights law, policy and communications “action tank.”

Read the Changing Course chapter “What Is the Role of Public Health in Gang-Membership Prevention?” by Tamara M. Haegerich, James Mercy and Billie Weiss (pdf, 19 pages).

About This Article

This article presents a chapter summary from the joint National Institute of Justice and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention publication Changing Course: Preventing Gang Membership (pdf, 166 pages). Changing Course features chapters written by some of the nation’s top criminal justice and public health researchers. The volume was edited by Thomas R. Simon, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Nancy M. Ritter, National Institute of Justice, Reshma R. Mahendra, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Date Published: September 15, 2013