Gang Members on the Move

Cheryl L. Maxson

The proliferation of youth gangs since 1980 has fueled the public's fear and magnified possible misconceptions about youth gangs. To address the mounting concern about youth gangs, the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention's (OJJDP's) Youth Gang Series delves into many of the key issues related to youth gangs. The series considers issues such as gang migration, gang growth, female involvement with gangs, homicide, drugs and violence, and the needs of communities and youth who live in the presence of youth gangs.

In recent years, local government officials, law enforcement officers, and community organizations have witnessed the emergence and growth of gangs in U.S. cities once thought to be immune to the crime and violence associated with street gangs in large metropolitan areas. Police chiefs, mayors, school officials, community activists, and public health officials have gone so far as to identify this proliferation as an epidemic. Reports of big-city gang members fanning out across the Nation seeking new markets for drug distribution have added fuel to concerns about gang proliferation and gang migration.

The increase in gang migration has generated the need for the issue to be assessed based on empirical evidence. As local communities attempt to address gang-related problems in their areas, it is critical that they have a clear understanding of patterns of gang migration and an accurate assessment of local, or indigenous, gang membership.

This Bulletin explores how key terms such as "gang," "gang proliferation," and "gang migration" are defined; how and whether gang migration affects gang proliferation; and trends reported in research literature. This Bulletin is based in part on work supported by the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) and an article previously published in the National Institute of Justice Journal (Maxson, Woods, and Klein, 1996).* Findings from a recent University of Southern California (USC) study on street-gang migration are also discussed (Maxson, Woods, and Klein, 1995).

    *This Bulletin expands on and updates previous analyses and published findings. OJJDP believes this Bulletin presents a unique contribution to the field by providing an anylsis of chronic and mergent gang cities with regard to gang migration, a key factor in the discussion of gang proliferation.

Gang Members on the Move Juvenile Justice Bulletin   ·  October 1998