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Preventing Gang Affiliation by Increasing Protective Factors

Young main spray painting graffitiFrom 2002–2006, gangs were responsible for approximately 20% of homicides in the 88 largest cities in the U.S.1 Research shows gang members are more likely than their non-gang affiliated peers to engage in crime and violence, which increases their risk of violence-related injuries and death. While only an estimated 5% of the U.S. population has ever joined a gang,2 gang membership has reached 14 to 30% of the population in many urban areas. 3, 4

A recent CDC study, “Risk and Protective Factors associated with Gang Affiliation among High-Risk Youth: A Public Health Approach,” was designed to identify risk and protective factors for gang affiliation to guide gang membership prevention strategies.

Published in Injury Prevention, the study found an estimated 7% of youths were gang affiliated. But the percentage of youth who reported gang affiliation ranged, depending on the number of protective influences. The range varied from 26% among those who reported having 0-3 protective influences to 1.6% among those with 7 or more protective influences.

For youth who live in high-risk communities, eliminating all potential risks for gang affiliation may be difficult. This research shows the potential value in increasing just a few key protective factors – such as a parent’s ability to supervise their children or a youth’s ability to cope with conflict – to help prevent youth from joining gangs.

To Learn More:

  1. Pyrooz D. Structural covariates of gang homicide in large U.S. cities. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency 2011;48:1–30.
  2. Klein M, Maxson C. Street gang patterns and policies. New York: Oxford University Press; 2006.
  3. Thornberry T. Membership in youth gangs and involvement in serious and violent offending. In: Loeber R, Farrington D, editors. Serious and Violent Offenders: Risk Factors and Successful Intervention. Thousand Oaks: Sage; 1998: 147–166.
  4. Thornberry T, Huizinga D, Loeber R. The causes and correlates studies: Findings and policy implications. Juvenile Justice 2004;9:3–19.

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