clear Youth Violence and Gang Prevention Programs

Interventions to reduce youth violence must address a variety of individual and social factors. Violent behavior is not purely a matter of individual temperament; it also is influenced by a variety of family, peer, neighborhood, and societal factors. Two lines of thought about the development of violent and delinquent behavior are prevalent in the literature. One is that youth who engage in violence have failed to develop appropriate social skills. They engage in violence because they are unable to solve problems and satisfy their needs in a more socially constructive way. The second viewpoint is that delinquent youth are very good at analyzing and interpreting behavior, but they employ this skill in a socially unsanctioned way. According to this view, many delinquent youth live in violent and unforgiving environments and have adopted a violent pattern of response to survive. From the perspective of these youth, violence is justified if it helps them achieve a goal or command respect. Sociologist Elijah Anderson has called this the code of the streets.1

Early violence prevention programs targeted older adolescents age 15 and above.2 Newer programs target younger children as well. Most of these programs are designed to improve social skills, problem solving, and anger management, while promoting beliefs that are favorable to nonviolence. Many encourage youth to consider the long-term consequences of their actions, both for themselves and for others.3

Few violence prevention programs have been subjected to carefully controlled evaluation. Those that have been evaluated produced mixed results.4 Most produced only modest effects on self-reported rates of aggressive or violent behavior and did not change the underlying views of youth or measured rates of serious violence. It is important to note, however, that evaluated programs generally targeted older adolescents, and younger children may be more affected by intervention efforts.

Changing long-established patterns of behavior may require a more sustained commitment to education and followup than was previously appreciated. There is growing appreciation of the enormous influence that peer groups exercise over the behavior of adolescents; therefore, programs that ignore group dynamics by focusing entirely on individual behavior diminish their chances for success.


1. E. Anderson, "The code of the streets," Atlantic Monthly 273:80­94, 1994.

2. D.W. Webster, "The unconvincing case for school-based conflict resolution," Health Affairs 126­141, Winter 1993.

3. A.L. Kellerman, D.S. Fuqua-Whitley, F.P. Rivara, and J.A. Mercy, "Preventing youth violence: What works?" Annual Review of Public Health 19:271­292, 1998.

4. J.C. Howell (ed.), Guide for Implementing the Comprehensive Strategy for Serious, Violent, and Chronic Juvenile Offenders, Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, 1995; and Kellerman et al.,1998.

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