Additional Resources:

Practice Profile

Gang Membership Prevention Programs

Evidence Ratings for Outcomes:

Promising - One Meta-Analysis Juvenile Problem & At-Risk Behaviors - Gang Membership

Practice Description

Practice Goals/Target Population
Gang prevention strategies attempt to deter youth from joining gangs. Because these programs are implemented to prevent youth from joining gangs, they do not target existing gang members.

There are generally two types of gang prevention programs: preventive awareness strategies and gang membership prevention strategies (Gravel et al. 2013). Preventive awareness strategies are designed to reduce gang membership for all youth, regardless of risk level. These programs are delivered to a universal population (for example, all students in a classroom), based on the rationale that any youth may be at risk of gang membership. Gang membership prevention strategies specifically target at-risk youth. At-risk youth are defined as youth who live in areas with gang activity or areas that have conditions in which gang activity thrives. At-risk youth may also be those who display characteristics that make them vulnerable to the appeal of gangs or behaviors conducive to gang activity, such as violence or aggression (Arbreton and McClanahan 2002).

Practice Activities/Key Personnel
Preventive awareness and gang prevention strategies include 1) addressing the risk factors associated with gang membership, 2) improving supervision of youth, 3) providing referrals to services and supports, 4) training youth in interpersonal skills (i.e., conflict resolution), 5) encouraging healthy-relationship building with prosocial peers, 6) offering safe spaces for youth recreation, and 7) emphasizing academic engagement (Esbensen et al. 2013; Arbreton and McClanahan 2002)

Preventive awareness strategies help youth develop skills to deal with at-risk situations, such as having peer pressure to engage in substance use or other illegal activities (Gravel et al. 2013). Gang prevention programs resemble those used in preventive awareness but place greater emphasis on risk factors and risky situations. Furthermore, prevention strategies typically recruit at-risk youth for participation and focus on times (late nights, weekends, after high-profile incidents) or places (neighborhoods with known gang activity) where risk of contact with gangs is heightened (Gravel et al. 2013).

Both preventive awareness and gang membership programs rely on collaboration across law enforcement, schools, local stakeholders, and community members, and may be delivered in schools or afterschool recreational settings. Some are also designed to help youth develop a positive bond with law enforcement (Esbensen et al. 2013).

Meta-Analysis Outcomes

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Promising - One Meta-Analysis Juvenile Problem & At-Risk Behaviors - Gang Membership
Across the six studies, Wong and colleagues (2016) found a statistically significant effect (log odds ratio = 0.23) favoring the treatment group, suggesting that gang prevention programs reduce the likelihood of youth joining a gang. The log odds ratio of 0.23 is equivalent to an odds ratio of 1.26, showing that the odds of joining a gang among youth in the comparison group was 26 percent greater than the odds of joining a gang among youth the treatment group.
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Meta-Analysis Methodology

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Meta-Analysis Snapshot
 Literature Coverage DatesNumber of StudiesNumber of Study Participants
Meta-Analysis 11980 - 201468749

Meta-Analysis 1
Wong and colleagues (2016) conduced a meta-analysis to assess the effectiveness of gang prevention programs. They grouped the programs into two categories: gang prevention programs and preventive awareness programs (Gravel et al. 2013). To be eligible for inclusion, studies had to have 1) evaluated a strategy for preventing gang membership or gang-related delinquency/crime; 2) reported on at least one quantitative outcome related to crime, delinquency, victimization, or gang membership; 3) included samples with at least 20 subjects; 4) been written in English; 5) been published between 1980 and 2014 (unpublished studies were also considered); 6) been conducted in Canada, the United States, Australia, New Zealand, or a Western European country; 7) provided sufficient data to allow for computation of an effect size with respect to treatment impact; and 8) used a randomized or quasi-experimental research design with a comparison group.

The final sample for the meta-analysis included six studies published between 1988 and 2013. A total of 8,749 youth participated in the studies in cities across the United States. One study used a randomized control design, and the remaining five studies used quasi-experimental designs with non-equivalent comparison groups selected by some level of matching. No demographic information was provided about the study participants. Four of the studies were peer-reviewed journal articles, one was a book chapter, and one was a government-sponsored report. Two of the studies looked at preventative awareness programs, and four studies looked at gang membership prevention programs.

Five of the six studies assessed gang membership as a dichotomous variable; therefore, the effect sizes were calculated as log odds ratios. One study assessed gang membership by degree of gang involvement using a 17-point scale, and this effect size was calculated using a standardized mean difference formula (Cohen’s d). Given concerns of pooling together effects using logistic and normal distributions, the overall effect size was converted to a log odds ratio. The individual log odds ratios were then pooled together to create a single estimate of treatment effect. Each study’s effect size was weighted based on the variance of the odds ratio and the sample size. Because of the limited amount of outcome data in many of the studies (i.e., low event rate of gang membership) and treatment/control group imbalance, the authors conducted the meta-analyses using Mantel-Haenszel fixed effects models.
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There is no cost information available for this practice.
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Other Information

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The results of the meta-analysis of six studies (Wong et al. 2016) suggest that gang prevention programs reduced the likelihood of gang membership; however, sensitivity analysis indicated that this finding was largely driven by the results of a single evaluation of one specific program (G.R.E.A.T.) When this study (Esbensen et al. 2013) was removed, the overall effect of the five remaining prevention programs on the likelihood of join a gang was non-significant.
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Evidence-Base (Meta-Analyses Reviewed)

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These sources were used in the development of the practice profile:

Meta-Analysis 1
Wong, Jennifer S., Jason Gravel, Martin Bouchard, Karine Descormiers, and Carlo Morselli. 2016. “Promises Kept? A Meta-Analysis of Gang Membership Prevention Programs.” Journal of Criminological Research, Policy, and Practice 2(2):134–47.
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Additional References

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These sources were used in the development of the practice profile:

Arbreton, A.J.A., and W.S. McClanahan. 2002. “Targeted Outreach: Boys and Girls Clubs of America’s Approach to Gang Prevention and Intervention.” Philadelphia, Pa.: Public/Private Ventures.

Esbensen, Finn–Aage, Dana Peterson, Terrance J. Taylor, and D. Wayne Osgood. 2012. “Results from a Multisite Evaluation of the G.R.E.A.T. Program.” Justice Quarterly 29(1):125–51

Gravel, Jason, Martin Bouchard, Karine Descormiers, Jennifer Wong, and Carlo Morselli. 2013. “Keeping Promises: A Systematic Review and a New Classification of Gang Control Strategies.” Journal of Criminal Justice 41(4):228–42.
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Related Programs

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Following are programs that are related to this practice:

Gang Resistance Education and Training (G.R.E.A.T.) Promising - One study
A school-based program that seeks to prevent violence and criminal activity, teach youths to avoid gang membership, and develop positive relationships with law enforcement. The program is rated Promising. The evaluation found a moderate positive effect on gang membership, no statistical differences in delinquency and violent offending. There was a small positive effect on prosocial attitudes toward police and the development of social skills.
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Practice Snapshot

Age: 10 - 17

Gender: Both

Targeted Population: Children Exposed to Violence

Settings: High Crime Neighborhoods/Hot Spots, Other Community Setting, School

Practice Type: Children Exposed to Violence, Classroom Curricula, Gang Prevention/Intervention, Violence Prevention

Unit of Analysis: Persons

Jennifer S. Wong
Associate Professor
School of Criminology, Simon Fraser University
Burnaby, British Columbia V5A 1S6
Phone: 778.782.8148