Gangs are a serious, persistent problem. According to the National Youth Gang Survey, from 2002 to 2010, the estimated number of youth gangs increased by nearly 35 percent (from 21,800 to 29,400). Some data indicate that nearly half of high school students report that some students in their school consider themselves part of a gang. Nearly one in five students in grades 6 through 12 report that their school has gangs. In addition, one-third (34 percent) of cities, towns and rural counties reported gang problems in 2010.
Kids who join gangs face a host of potential negative consequences. Gang-involved youth are more likely to:
- Engage in substance abuse and high-risk sexual behavior
- Experience a wide range of potentially long-term health and social consequences, including school dropout, teen parenthood, family problems and unstable employment
- Engage in violence and serious offenses, such as drug trafficking, which can lead to arrest, conviction, incarceration and increased risk of experiencing violent victimization
Joining a gang poses serious consequences — not just to the individual but also to his or her entire community; high-rate criminal gang members impose an enormous societal cost. Gang members account for a disproportionate amount of crime in the communities where gangs are particularly active. Other negative impacts include loss of property values, weakened informal social-control mechanisms and families leaving neighborhoods.
Over the course of a lifetime, a high-rate criminal can impose some $4.2 to $7.2 million in costs on society. , However, the costs are relatively low during the early years of their life — totaling about $3,000 at age 10.  This finding suggests that early prevention efforts that focus on youth in high-risk settings before problem behaviors develop can result in large cost savings to communities.
Read the Changing Course chapter “Why Is Gang-Membership Prevention Important?” by James C. Howell (pdf, 13 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.
[note 1] Egley, Arlen Jr., and James C. Howell, Additional data are available at the National Gang Center website.
[note 2] Chandler, Kathryn A., Christopher D. Chapman, Michael R. Rand, and Bruce M. Taylor, Students Reports of School Crime: 1989 and 1995 (pdf, 59 pages), Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Education, Office of Educational Research and Improvement, National Center for Education Statistics, NCES-98-241, and U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics, March 1998, NCJ 169067.
[note 3] Decker, Scott H., and Barrik van Winkle, Life in the Gang: Family, Fdp.gov/pubs/237542.pdf">Highlights of the 2010 National Youth Gang Survey (pdf, 4 pages), Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, grant number 2007-JV-FX-008, April 2012. Date Created: September 16, 2013