Prevent Gang Membership
CDC and NIJ Book Guides Gang-Joining Prevention Efforts
Stopping youth gang involvement requires public health and public safety professionals working together. Changing Course: Preventing Gang Membership provides insights into risk factors for kids joining gangs and offers principles for prevention to change the course of the future for young people.
The consequences of gangs — and their burden on law enforcement and public health systems in our communities — are significant. Law enforcement intervention and suppression efforts alone are not sufficient to solve the youth gang problem in the United States.
Preventing young people from joining gangs in the first place is crucial to realizing a significant and lasting reduction in youth gang activity.
Changing Course: Preventing Gang Membership, a book from CDC’s Division of Violence Prevention and the National Institute of Justice, provides insights into the risk factors and reasons for kids joining gangs and offers key principles for prevention.
Changing the Course of Young People’s Future
Changing Course explores the important relationship between public safety and public health in preventing kids from joining gangs. Community leaders and practitioners are invited to engage in a new way of thinking about this relationship and to put into practice evidence-based principles and practices that can halt the cascading impact of gangs on kids, families, neighborhoods, and society.
The book’s goal is to help community leaders, police officers, teachers, and community-services providers to better understand what research says about keeping kids out of gangs and to make informed decisions about how to best use limited resources to prevent gang joining.
To change the course, it is important to look beyond individual-level risk factors to consider factors within families, schools, and communities that influence gang-joining. Opportunities and principles for prevention are described at each level.
Examples of Key Points
- The most common age for youth to join a gang is between 13 and 15, making early prevention efforts critical.
- Young people join gangs for various reasons, including money, sense of support and belonging, peer status, perceived sense of protection, or to demonstrate an outlaw mentality.
- Youth in gangs are more likely to abuse drugs, engage in high-risk sexual behaviors, and experience long-term health and social consequences.
- Girls join gangs in large numbers, contrary to stereotypes. Prevention efforts should address girls’ risk for gang joining, including preventing sexual abuse and addressing abusive intimate partner violence for girls.
- Very early prevention efforts, particularly with families of young children, show promising results.
- Gang-joining prevention efforts should be informed by what is known about risk and protective factors for children of particular ages. There are protective factors, such as academic success, positive connections, and effective parenting that can help youth who are growing up in high-risk communities.
- School-based programs addressing substance abuse, delinquency, and violence prevention have reduced risk factors for gang-joining when fully implemented.
- Community partnerships can help reinforce and enhance the existing strengths of families and communities to reduce gang-joining, especially when supporting activities such as tutoring, mentoring, life-skills training, case management, parental involvement, and supervised recreation.
- The public health approach — monitoring trends, researching risk and protective factors, evaluating interventions, supporting the dissemination and implementation of evidence-based strategies — is an important complement to law enforcement efforts.
Get the Book and Supporting Materials
Download Changing Course, an executive summary and individual chapters for free from the National Institute of Justice.
Help Spread the Word.
Download a flyer [PDF 157KB] about the book to print and share.
Simon T, Ritter N, Mahendra R, editors. Changing Course: Preventing Gang Membership. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2013.