1. Please check and comment entries here.
Table of Contents

    Topic review

    Street Gang Intervention

    Subjects: Sociology
    View times: 154
    Submitted by: Jaimee Mallion


    Tackling street gangs has recently been highlighted as a priority for public health. In this paper, the four components of a public health approach were reviewed: (1) surveillance, (2) identifying risk and protective factors, (3) developing and evaluating interventions at primary prevention, secondary prevention, and tertiary intervention stages, and (4) implementation of evidence-based programs. Findings regarding the effectiveness of prevention and intervention programs for street gang members were mixed, with unclear goals/objectives, limited theoretical foundation, and a lack of consistency in program implementation impeding effectiveness at reducing street gang involvement. The Good Lives Model was proposed as a framework for street gang intervention.

    1. Introduction 

    Street gangs are a growing problem internationally, with countries including the UK, USA, Sweden, China, and the Netherlands reporting a marked increase in street gang membership (e.g., Chui and Khiatani 2018 [1]; Roks and Densley 2020 [2]; Rostami 2017 [3]). In the UK alone, the number of street gang affiliated youths has seen a dramatic increase over a five-year period. The Children's Commissioner [4] approximated that in 2013/14, 46,000 young people were either directly gang-involved or knew a street gang member. By 2019 this figure had increased to 27,000 full street gang members, 60,000 affiliates, and a further 313,000 youths who knew a street gang member [5]. Similar increases have been seen in the USA, with a 40.83% growth in the number of different street gangs between 2002 and 2012 [6]. As such, the World Health Organization [7] has highlighted youth violence, including street gang membership, as a global public health problem that requires an immediate international response.

    Street gang membership is associated with increased perpetration of illegal activities, particularly serious and violent offences [8], with this relationship stable across time, place, and definitions of street gangs [9]. As such, street gangs are responsible for causing heightened levels of fear and victimization amongst members of their community [10]. In addition, street gang involvement has adverse health, welfare, and economic consequences for individual members, which persist long after disengagement [11][12]. For instance, longitudinal research identified that adults who belonged to a street gang during adolescence experienced more mental and physical health issues than their non-gang counterparts [13]. Adolescent street gang members also experience more economic hardship during adulthood than their non-gang peers, with higher rates of unemployment and reliance on welfare benefits or illicit income [14]. Furthermore, street gang involvement during adolescence has a detrimental effect on the development of long-term stable family relationships, with former members more likely to engage in intimate partner violence and child maltreatment [15].

    Considering these long-term and wide-ranging effects of street gang membership, it is unsurprising that there has been a proliferation of prevention and intervention programs developed and implemented world-wide. Although literature is beginning to emerge which suggests some of these are effective programs at reducing street gang involvement, there remains a paucity of reliable evidence to date. Highlighted by Wong et al. [16]  such programs often suffer from a lack of theoretical foundation [17], clear goals and objectives [18], and methodologically sound evaluation [19]. These factors are associated with an increased risk of harmful outcomes for program participants [20], including negative labeling and heightened rates of recidivism [21]. Thus, discovering “what works” in street gang prevention and intervention is essential.

    A public health approach to street gang membership has recently been suggested [22], which could guide the development of effective prevention and intervention strategies. WHO [23] suggests four key elements for a public health approach, including: (1) surveillance, (2) identifying risk and protective factors, (3) developing and evaluating interventions, and (4) implementation. See Figure 1 for an overview of each of these elements in relation to street gang prevention and intervention. Using a public health approach, street gang intervention occurs across three levels [24]: primary prevention (early intervention approaches prior to initiation of street gang involvement), secondary prevention (interventions specifically for individuals at-risk of street gang involvement), and tertiary prevention (long-term rehabilitation strategies for those who have engaged in street gangs). In addition, public health interventions can be universally implemented (aimed at the general population), selected (targeted towards those at-risk of street gang involvement), or indicated (targeted specifically at street gang members).

    Socsci 09 00160 g001 550

    Figure 1. WHO's public health approach to violence prevention [23], adapted for street gang intervention.

    2.  Surveillance

    Surveillance is a core aspect of a public health approach, which informs the development and implementation of prevention and intervention programs [25]. Surveillance involves establishing clear definitions regarding the population of interest (i.e., street gang members), enabling the identification of both those in need of intervention and the associated risk factors [26]. By implementing surveillance measures, such as analyzing knife crime and criminal convictions data, the extent of the problem in society on a local, national, and international scale can be recognized [27]. Ongoing monitoring enables any changes in the patterns or frequencies of behavior to be quickly identified and disseminated to intervention providers, informing the decision-making process [28].

    3.  Risk and Protective Factors

    A public health approach involves developing an understanding of the causes of street gang membership [29]. This takes two forms, with the identification of risk factors (increasing the likelihood of street gang involvement) and protective factors (reducing the likelihood of street gang involvement). By establishing a framework of risk and protective factors, this informs the development of prevention and intervention strategies aimed at reducing involvement in street gangs. To date, focus has been placed on identifying the risk factors for street gang membership, with a paucity of research on the protective factors [30]. This section will outline the risk and protective factors for street gang membership that have been identified.

    4.  Current Approaches to Street Gang Intervention

    Street gang membership has typically been targeted through the criminal justice system, including the imposition of street gang injunctions (behaviors or activities of the street gang member are prohibited, such as going to certain areas [31]. Whilst research has demonstrated reductions in reoffending rates by recipients of street gang injunctions [32], long-term negative effects have also been identified (e.g., reduced opportunities for education and employment, and less access to prosocial networks [33]. However, there has been a recent growth in prevention and intervention programs which are psychologically-informed (e.g., O'Connor and Waddell [34]). These programs have more positive long-term outcomes, for both the individual and the community, than criminal justice approaches [35], and fit well within a public health framework.

    5.  Good Lives Model as a Public Health Framework

    The programs reviewed above represent just a small fraction of the wide range of street gang interventions available. Whilst some interventions are emerging as being effective at preventing or reducing street gang involvement, the vast majority suffer from a weak or limited evidence-base. Critically, there is a lack of consistency in the provision of intervention programs for street gang members across communities. Also, Wood [36] suggests current prevention and intervention strategies are limited by a number of therapeutic issues. Specifically, the benefits of belonging to a street gang (e.g., protection, social and emotional support, sense of identity [37] extend beyond the typical proceeds of crime (i.e., financial and material gain), and are not adequately targeted in interventions. In addition, street gang members' mistrust and lack of motivation frequently hinder intervention efforts [38]. The Good Lives Model (GLM [39]), a novel approach to offender rehabilitation, can provide a framework for street gang interventions which overcomes these obstacles.

    6.  Conclusions and Future Directions

    There has been a recent shift from viewing street gangs as a problem for law enforcement to considering street gangs as a priority for public health [40]. The public health approach emphasizes the role of research in understanding the causes of street gang membership, with this informing the development of primary prevention, secondary prevention, and tertiary intervention programs [41]. Whilst research regarding the risk factors for street gang membership has rapidly grown over the past decade, the protective factors preventing involvement are still relatively unknown [30]. As a large number of young people successfully avoid joining street gangs, future research should focus on understanding protective factors which could guide street gang prevention and intervention programs.

    A key component of a public health approach involves conducting methodologically sound evaluations of street gang prevention and intervention programs. Whilst this review has demonstrated that some programs are beginning to show promise at reducing street gang involvement (e.g., G.R.E.A.T, FFT-G), the majority of programs lack methodologically sound evaluation (i.e., no control group, reliance on pre-post measures). Furthermore, the use of different definitions of street gang membership across communities has impeded the consistent implementation of prevention and intervention strategies, resulting in mixed findings regarding program effectiveness (e.g., Cure Violence). Thus, to support consistency in the implementation of prevention and intervention programs, it is recommended that the Eurogang definition is used to guide a public health approach to street gangs. Furthermore, in the future, regular evaluations should be embedded into prevention and intervention programs to examine their effectiveness at reducing street gang involvement.

    Critically, prevention and intervention programs often suffer from a lack of theoretical foundation and clear goals or objectives [18][17]. This can be overcome by using the GLM framework to guide evidence-based prevention and intervention strategies for street gang members. The GLM assumes that improving an individual's internal skills and external opportunities will support them in attaining their primary goods through prosocial means. If these primary goods are effectively secured, this will reduce the need for young people to engage with a street gang. As the GLM is a model of healthy human functioning [42], it can be utilized across all stages of prevention and intervention. Whilst past research has theoretically applied the GLM to street gang members [43], future research is needed to empirically examine the application of a GLM framework to street gang prevention and intervention programs.

    This entry is adapted from 10.3390/socsci9090160


    1. Chui, Wing Hong, and Paul Vinod Khiatani. 2018. Delinquency among members of Hong Kong youth street gangs: The role of the organizational structures of gangs and Triad affiliations. International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology 62: 2527–47.
    2. Roks, Robert, and James Densley. 2020. From breakers to bikers: The evolution of the Dutch crips ‘gang’. Deviant Behavior 41: 525–42.
    3. Rostami, Amir. 2017. Street-Gang Violence in Sweden Is a Growing Concern. Sociologisk Forskning 54: 365–68. Available online: https://www.diva-portal.org/smash/get/diva2:1168353/FULLTEXT01.pdf (accessed on 4 July 2020).
    4. Children’s Commissioner. 2017. Estimating the Number of Vulnerable Children (29 Groups). London: Author, Available online: https://www.basw.co.uk/system/files/resources/basw_84332-10_0.pdf (accessed on 6 July 2020).
    5. Children’s Commissioner. 2019. Keeping Kids Safe: Improving Safeguarding Responses to Gang Violence and Criminal Exploitation; London: Author. Available online: https://www.childrenscommissioner.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/CCO-Gangs.pdf (accessed on 7 July 2020).
    6. National Gang Center. 2020. What We Do? Florida: Author. Available online: https://www.nationalgangcenter.gov/What-We-Do (accessed on 9 July 2020).
    7. World Health Organization. 2020. Youth Violence. Available online: https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/youth-violence (accessed on 12 July 2020).
    8. Pyrooz, David, Jillian Turanovic, Scott Decker, and Jun Wu. 2016. Taking stock of the relationship between gang membership and offending: A meta-analysis. Criminal Justice and Behavior 43: 365–97.
    9. Dong, Beidi, and Marvin Krohn. 2016. Escape from violence: What reduces the enduring consequences of adolescent gang affiliation? Journal of Criminal Justice 47: 41–50.
    10. Howell, James. 2007. Menacing or mimicking? Realities of youth gangs. Juvenile and Family Court Journal 58: 39–50. Available online: https://www.nationalgangcenter.gov/content/documents/menacing-or-mimicking.pdf (accessed on 20 July 2020).
    11. Connolly, Eric, and Dylan Jackson. 2019. Adolescent gang membership and adverse behavioral, mental health, and physical health outcomes in young adulthood: A within-family analysis. Criminal Justice and Behavior 46: 1566–86.
    12. Petering, Robin. 2016. Sexual risk, substance use, mental health, and trauma experiences of gang-involved homeless youth. Journal of Adolescence 48: 73–81.
    13. Gilman, Amanda, Karl Hill, and David Hawkins. 2014. Long-term consequences of adolescent gang membership for adult functioning. American Journal of Public Health 104: 938–45.
    14. Krohn, Marvin, Jeffrey Ward, Terence Thornberry, Alan Lizotte, and Rebekah Chu. 2011. The cascading effects of adolescent gang involvement across the life course. Criminology 49: 991–1028.
    15. Augustyn, Megan Bears, Terrance Thornberry, and Marvin Krohn. 2014. Gang membership and pathways to maladaptive parenting. Journal of Research on Adolescence 24: 252–67.
    16. Wong, Jennifer, Jason Gravel, Martin Bouchard, Carlo Morselli, and Karine Descormiers. 2011. Effectiveness of Street Gang Control Strategies: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Evaluation Studies. Toronto: Public Safety Canada.
    17. McGloin, Jean, and Scott Decker. 2010. Theories of gang behaviour and public policy. In Criminology and Public Policy: Putting Theory to Work. Edited by Hugh Barlow and Scott Decker. Pennsylvania: Temple University Press, pp. 150–65.
    18. Klein, Malcolm, and Cheryl Maxson. 2006. Street Gang Patterns and Policies. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
    19. Curry, David. 2010. From knowledge to response and back again: Theory and evaluation in responding to gangs. In Youth Gangs and Community Intervention: Research, Practice and Evidence. Edited by Robert Chaskin. Columbia: Columbia University Press, pp. 109–26.
    20. Welsh, Brandon, and Michael Rocque. 2014. When crime prevention harms: A review of systematic reviews. Journal of Experimental Criminology 10: 245–66.
    21. Petrosino, Anthony, Carolyn Turpin-Petrosino, and Sarah Guckenburg. 2010. Formal system processing of juveniles: Effects on delinquency. Campbell Systematic Reviews 6: 1–88.
    22. Gebo, Erika. 2016. An integrated public health and criminal justice approach to gangs: What can research tell us? Preventive Medicine Reports 4: 376–80.
    23. Krug, Etienne, Linda Dahlberg, James Mercy, Anthony Zwi, and Rafael Lozano. 2002. World Report on Violence and Health. Geneva: World Health Organization, Available online: https://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/handle/10665/42495/9241545615_eng.pdf;jsessionid=8AD6F031E059843A6801FA8101412CD3?sequence=1 (accessed on 17 July 2020).
    24. Conaglen, Philip, and Annette Gallimore. 2014. Violence Prevention: A Public Health Priority. Glasgow: NHS Scotland, Available online: https://www.scotphn.net/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/Report-Violence-Prevention-A-Public-Health-Priority-December-2014.pdf (accessed on 12 July 2020).
    25. Richards, Chesley, Michael Iademarco, Delton Atkinson, Robert Pinner, Paula Yoon, Mac William Kenzie, Brian Lee, Judith Qualters, and Thomas Frieden. 2017. Advances in public health surveillance and information dissemination at the centers for disease control and prevention. Public Health Reports 132: 403–10.
    26. Department of Health. 2012. Public Health Surveillance: Towards a Public Health Surveillance Strategy for England; London: Author. Available online: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/213339/Towards-a-Public-Health-Surveillance-Strategy.pdf (accessed on 11 July 2020).
    27. World Health Organization. 2010. European Report on Preventing Violence and Knife Crime among Young People. Available online: https://www.euro.who.int/__data/assets/pdf_file/0012/121314/E94277.pdf (accessed on 9 July 2020).
    28. Public Health England. 2017. Public Health England Approach to Surveillance; London: Author. Available online: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/public-health-england-approach-to-surveillance/public-health-england-approach-to-surveillance (accessed on 5 July 2020).
    29. Local Government Association. 2018. Public Approaches to Reducing Violence; London: Author. Available online: https://www.local.gov.uk/sites/default/files/documents/15.32%20-%20Reducing%20family%20violence_03.pdf (accessed on 5 July 2020).
    30. McDaniel, Dawn. 2012. Risk and protective factors associated with gang affiliation among high-risk youth: A public health approach. Injury Prevention 18: 253–58.
    31. HM Government. 2016. Statutory Guidance: Injunctions to Prevent Gang-Related Violence and Gang-Related Drug Dealing; London: Author. Available online: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/injunctions-to-prevent-gang-related-violence-and-drug-dealing (accessed on 10 July 2020).
    32. Carr, Richard, Molly Slothower, and John Parkinson. 2017. Do gang injunctions reduce violent crime? Four tests in Merseyside, UK. Cambridge Journal of Evidence-Based Policing 1: 195–210.
    33. Swan, Richelle, and Kristin Bates. 2017. Loosening the ties that bind: The hidden harms of civil gang injunctions in San Diego County. Contemporary Justice Review 20: 132–53.
    34. O’Connor, Robyn, and Stephanie Waddell. 2015. What Works to Prevent Gang Involvement, Youth Violence and Crime: A Rapid Review of Interventions Delivered in the UK and Abroad. London: Early Intervention Foundation, Available online: https://www.eif.org.uk/report/what-works-to-prevent-gang-involvement-youth-violence-and-crime-a-rapid-review-of-interventions-delivered-in-the-uk-and-abroad (accessed on 10 July 2020).
    35. Howell, James. 2010. Gang Prevention: An Overview of Research and Programs; Washington, DC, USA: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs. Available online: https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/ojjdp/231116.pdf (accessed on 19 July 2020).
    36. Wood, Jane. 2019. Confronting gang membership and youth violence: Intervention challenges and potential futures. Criminal Behaviour and Mental Health 29: 69–73.
    37. Alleyne, Emma, and Jane Louise Wood. 2010. Gang involvement: Psychological and behavioral characteristics of gang members, peripheral youth, and nongang youth. Aggressive Behavior 36: 423–36.
    38. Di Placido, Chantal, Terri Simon, Treena Witte, Deqiang Gu, and Stephen Wong. 2006. Treatment of gang members can reduce recidivism and institutional misconduct. Law and Human Behavior 30: 93–114.
    39. Ward, Tony, and Mark Brown. 2004. The Good Lives Model and conceptual issues in offender rehabilitation. Psychology, Crime & Law 10: 243–57.
    40. Catch22. 2013. Violence Prevention, Health Promotion: A Public Health Approach to Tackling Youth Violence. London: Author, Available online: http://yvcommission.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/Catch22-and-MHP-Health-Violence-prevention-Health-promotion-A-public-health-approach-to-tackling-youth-violence-2013.pdf (accessed on 3 July 2020).
    41. McDaniel, Dawn, Joseph Logan, and Janet Schneiderman. 2014. Supporting gang violence prevention efforts: A public health approach for nurses. Online Journal of Issues in Nursing 19: 1–16. Available online: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4703334/ (accessed on 8 July 2020).
    42. Purvis, Mayumi, Tony Ward, and Simone Shaw. 2013. Applying the Good Lives Model to the Case Management of Sexual Offenders: A practical Guide for Probation Officers, Parole Officers, and Case Workers. Vermont: Safer Security Press.
    43. Mallion, Jaimee Sheila, and Jane Wood. 2020. Good lives model and street gang membership: A review and application. Aggression and Violent Behavior 52: 1–11.