The proliferation of gang problems in large and small cities, suburbs, and even rural areas led to the development of a comprehensive, coordinated response to America's gang problem by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP).
OJJDP has long supported a combination of activities, including research, evaluation, training and technical assistance, and demonstration programs, aimed at combating youth gangs. In the early days of OJJDP’s operations, long term studies of gang involvement and associated risk factors were supported that identified key risk factors for gang joining and developmental pathways toward serious and violent delinquency and adolescent violence. Since the 1980s, OJJDP has developed, funded, and evaluated community-based anti-gang programs that coordinate prevention, intervention, enforcement, and reentry strategies.
Recognizing that street gang activities span ages of members from late childhood, adolescence, and adulthood, in October 2009, the Office of Justice Programs (OJP) merged its existing resources to create the National Gang Center (NGC), developing a comprehensive approach to reduce gang involvement and gang crime. The NGC is responsive to the needs of researchers, practitioners, and the public and offers a website that features the latest research about gangs; descriptions of evidence-based, anti-gang programs; and links to tools, databases, and other resources to assist in developing and implementing effective community-based gang prevention, intervention, and suppression strategies. There is also data analysis of the findings from nearly 20 years of data collected by the annual National Youth Gang Survey (NYGS) of a nationally representative sample of U.S. law enforcement agencies. Users can read and download publications related to street gangs, review gang-related state legislation, and request training and technical assistance as they plan and implement anti-gang strategies, and register for a variety of anti-gang training courses. Since the establishment of the NGC, it has provided anti-gang law enforcement training to more than 4,600 law enforcement officers and provided tailored technical assistance to more than 30 cities working to address their local gang problems and implementing OJJDP's Comprehensive Gang Model.
Based on law enforcement responses to the NYGS, nearly one-third of all responding law enforcement agencies reported gang activity in 2012. It is estimated that there were 30,700 gangs and 850,000 gang members throughout 3,100 jurisdictions with gang problems in the United States in 2012. The number of reported gang-related homicides increased 20 percent from 2011 to 2012. (Highlights of the 2012 National Youth Gang Survey, December 2014)
A national assessment of gang problems and programs provided the foundation for OJJDP’s Comprehensive Gang Model, a project developed in the mid-1980s. Its key components reflect the best features of existing and evaluated programs across the country. The model provides a collaborative approach for coordinated action among law enforcement, government agencies, and community-based organizations. It is grounded in data-driven strategic planning to connect resources into an organized system of mutually reinforcing core strategies of community mobilization, social intervention, opportunities for educational and vocational advancements, suppression, and organizational change and development. As most gang members join between the ages of 12 and 15, prevention is a also critical strategy within a comprehensive response to gangs that includes intervention, suppression and reentry.
The Gang Resistance Education And Training (G.R.E.A.T.) Program is an evidence-based gang and violence prevention program that has been building trust between law enforcement and communities for almost 30 years. Based on the findings from a long-term, multisite NIJ evaluation, G.R.E.A.T. has demonstrated effectiveness as a gang and violence prevention program built around school-based, law enforcement officer-instructed classroom curricula. The Program is intended as an immunization against delinquency, youth violence, and gang membership for children in the years immediately before the prime ages for introduction into gangs and delinquent behavior. It provides a continuum of components for children and their families. These components include a 13-lesson middle school curriculum, a 6-lesson elementary school curriculum, a summer vacation component, and a families component. G.R.E.A.T. is also taught in several countries of Central America with funding from the U.S. Department of State. More than 14,000 sworn officers from around the United States and 2,000 from various Central American countries have been trained and certified to teach the G.R.E.A.T. curricula. The G.R.E.A.T. curricula have been delivered to more than 7 million children, allowing law enforcement to foster strong relationships with these students, as well as their schools and communities. Since its inception, G.R.E.A.T. has developed partnerships with nationally recognized organizations, such as Boys & Girls Clubs of America, Inc.; Families and Schools Together®; and the National Association of Police Athletic/Activities Leagues, Inc. These partnerships encourage positive collaboration among the community, parents, schools, and law enforcement.
OJJDP collaborates with Bureau of Justice Assistance to ensure that OJP has an array of information and resources available on gangs. OJJDP's strategy is to reduce gang activity in targeted neighborhoods by incorporating a broad spectrum of research-based interventions to address the range of personal, family, and community factors that contribute to juvenile delinquency and gang activity. This approach attempts to integrate Federal, state, and local resources to incorporate state-of-the-art practices in prevention, intervention, and suppression.
At the direction of President Obama, the Departments of Justice and Education launched the National Forum on Youth Violence Prevention (Forum) in order to begin a national conversation concerning youth and gang violence, raising awareness and elevating the issue to one of national significance. In addition, the Forum was created to build the capacity of localities across the country to more effectively address the youth violence through multi-disciplinary partnerships, balanced approaches, data-driven strategies, comprehensive planning and the sharing of common challenges and promising strategies. The Forum was created as a new model for Federal and local collaboration, encouraging Forum members to change the way they "do business" through increased communication and coordinated action.
The Forum convenes a diverse array of stakeholders at the Federal, state and local levels. Along with Justice and Education, participating Federal agencies include the Departments of Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, Labor and the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. Communities participating in the Forum include Boston, Camden, Chicago, Detroit, Memphis, Minneapolis, New Orleans, Philadelphia, Salinas, San Jose, Long Beach, Cleveland, Louisville, Seattle, and Baltimore. Other participants include local faith and community-based groups, youth and family representatives, as well as businesses and philanthropies. See the Preventing Youth Violence section of Youth.gov for additional information about the Forum and other efforts.
The Community-Based Violence Prevention Initiative is adapted from the best violence reduction work in several cities and the public health research of the last several decades. Evaluation research has identified programs that have demonstrated effectiveness in reducing the impact of risk factors. These efforts have identified that responses must be comprehensive, long-term strategic approaches that contain the spread of gang activity, protect those youth who are most susceptible, and mitigate risk factors that foster gang activity. The four-pronged approach of effective anti-gang strategies include: targeted suppression of youth who commit the most serious and chronic offenses; intervention with youthful gang members; prevention efforts for youth identified as being at high risk of entering a gang; and implementation of programs that address risk and protective factors and targets the entire population in high-crime, high-risk areas. Additional public health research conducted over the last decade shows success in those programs, which have focused on not only managing incidents of serious youth violence and gang violence, but also those that include proactive interventions to prevent further retaliatory acts of youth or gang violence. FY2010 grant recipients were Brooklyn, NY, Oakland, CA, Denver, CO, and Washington, DC. In FY2011, OJJDP made awards to Baltimore, MD, Boston, MA, and Newark, NJ. In FY 2013, OJJDP made Community-Based Violence Prevention Initiative awards to recipients in Baltimore, MD, Camden, NJ, Baton Rouge, LA, Syracuse, NY, Kansas City, MO, and Newport News, VA.
In FY2011, OJJDP supported the national Boys & Girls Clubs of America (BGCA) organization of Atlanta, GA, to help local affiliate clubs prevent youth from joining gangs, intervene with gang members in the early stages of gang involvement, and divert youth from gangs into more constructive activities. This program reflects a long-term collaboration between OJJDP and BGCA to reduce problems of juvenile gangs, delinquency, and violence. The national organization provides training and technical assistance to local gang prevention and intervention sites and to other clubs and organizations through regional training sessions and national conferences. Each year, dozens of new gang prevention sites, gang intervention sites, and a targeted reintegration sites are added to the many existing programs implementing these strategies across the country.
The Urban Institute and Temple University received grant funding to look at norms and networks of Latino gang youth. This study, Norms and Networks of Latino Gang Youth, employed a social network framework to understand the patterns of relations by examining two levels of social processes for the unit of analysis (individual and group relationships) through both egocentric and sociocentric network analysis, and extending network analysis to include different types of relationships (e.g., friend, relative, neighbor), This study examined multiple research questions that have not yet been addressed in delinquency and gang literature. The results of this study can be found at the Urban Institute website.
Additional research in the area of gang prevention and intervention is being conducted by the University of Maryland through the Blueprints for Gang Prevention Project. Gang membership facilitates increased involvement in violence and serious delinquency. It is necessary to identify effective programs to reduce the level of gang membership and to reduce the impact that gang membership has in facilitating antisocial behaviors. Currently, the numbers of known gang intervention programs that meet rigorous standards to be considered "evidence-based" are very limited. The Blueprints for Violence Prevention project has identified programs that have been shown to reduce violence, delinquency, and drug use, and which meet these evidence based standards. The purpose of this project is to identify the Blueprint programs that have the highest probability for success with gang members or youth at risk for gang membership, modify them to be responsive to the particular needs of gang members, and then implement and rigorously evaluate their effectiveness. The project has identified eligible programs and is currently testing one that has been fitted with the necessary modification.
To access ratings and evaluations of juvenile justice programs, see OJJDP’s Model Programs Guide (MPG). Captured on MPG is information about youth prevention, intervention, and reentry programs, including programs that target youth gangs and the prevention of youth gang activities.
The second edition of the OJJDP report Best Practices To Address Community Gang Problems: OJJDP's Comprehensive Gang Model guides communities responding to a gang problem in implementing OJJDP's Comprehensive Gang Model. It describes the research that produced the model and offers best practices obtained from practitioners with years of experience in planning, implementing, and overseeing variations of the model within their communities. This second edition includes a summary of findings from an independent evaluation of OJJDP's Gang Reduction Program, a demonstration of the anti-gang framework in four target sites.
Also see the following gang resources from OJJDP:
- Gangs in Schools (March 2019)
- A Law Enforcement Official's Guide to the OJJDP Comprehensive Gang Model (2017)
Parents’ Guide to Gangs (July 2015) (also in Spanish)
- Why Youth Join Gangs video (April 2014)
- Highlights of the 2012 National Youth Gang Survey (Fact Sheet, December 2014)
- See the Youth Gang Series for additional resources highlighting National Youth Gang Survey data, OJJDP Comprehensive Gang Model technical manuscripts, and additional gang-related OJJDP bulletins.
- Getting Out of Gangs, Staying Out of Gangs: Gang Intervention and Desistance Strategies (Bulletin, January 2013)
- Social Networks, Delinquency, and Gang Membership: Using a Neighborhood Framework to Examine the Influence of Network Composition and Structure in a Latino Community (Grant Report, February 2012)
- Is G.R.E.A.T. Effective? Does the Program Prevent Gang Joining? Results From the National Evaluation of G.R.E.A.T.
- Gang Resistance and Education Training (G.R.E.A.T.) resources
- G.R.E.A.T. Introductory Brochure
- G.R.E.A.T. Informational Booklet
- Quick Guide to G.R.E.A.T
- Bullying Prevention and the G.R.E.A.T. Program
- Street Outreach and the OJJDP Comprehensive Gang Model (Bulletin, June 2012)
- Findings from the Evaluation of OJJDP's Gang Reduction Program (Bulletin, December 2010)
- Gang Prevention: An Overview of Research and Programs (Bulletin, December 2010)
- Responding to Gangs in the School Setting (Bulletin, November 2010)
- ”Survey Indicates That Gang Activity Continues at High Levels” (in OJJDP News @ a Glance, May/June 2011)
- "New Online Resource Provides Strategies for Preventing Gang Violence" (in OJJDP News at @ Glance, January/February 2010)
- Assessing Your Community Gang Problem (2009)
- OJJDP Comprehensive Gang Model: Planning for Implementation (2009)
- The Impact of Gangs on Communities (Bulletin, August 2006)
- "Strategic Risk-Based Response to Youth Gangs" (in Juvenile Justice Journal, September 2004)
- Youth Gangs in Indian Country (Bulletin, March 2004)
- "New Program Supports Community Gang Programs" (in OJJDP News at @ Glance, September/October 2003)
OJJDP's Strategic Planning Tool was developed to assist in assessing a community's gang problem and planning strategies to deal with it. The Tool is a resource that encompasses four interrelated components to assist in addressing a community's gang problem. Those components link descriptive information about risk factors, best practices, strategies, and research-based programs. Communities can catalogue existing local resources by creating a Web-based Community Resource Inventory account accessed on this Tool.
The National Gang Center website features the latest research about gangs; descriptions of evidence-based, anti-gang programs; and links to tools, databases, and other resources to assist in developing and implementing effective community-based gang prevention, intervention, and suppression strategies.
The National Institute of Justice's CrimeSolutions.gov uses rigorous research to inform practitioners and policy makers about what works in criminal justice, juvenile justice, and crime victim services. Visit the Gangs section of the site to learn about applicable programs rated by CrimeSolutions.gov.
Additional gang-related resources may be found on OJJDP's website, by searching by the keyword "gang".
To keep informed on gang and other juvenile-justice related issues, subscribe to OJJDP's bimonthly electronic newsletter OJJDP News @ a Glance and JUVJUST listserv.