Gangs are defined in many ways. The federal definition of a gang is a group of three or more people organized, in part, to engage in criminal activity and who identify themselves with a common name or sign.
Some youth believe that joining a gang will protect them from neighborhood crime and violence. However, research shows that gang-involved youth are actually more likely to be victims of violence and more likely to commit crimes, leading to higher rates of arrest and incarceration.
Consequences of youth gang involvement also include failing to graduate high school, becoming a teen parent, and being unemployed. Although youth are usually gang members for only a year or two, the negative impacts—including family problems, poor physical and mental health, substance use, and continued involvement in crime—last far into adulthood.
Growing up in a violent family environment and experiencing school-related problems, such as academic failure and negative labeling, have been identified as risk factors for youth joining a gang.
Parents play a key role in preventing children from joining a gang. Steps parents can take include talking about the negative consequences of gang behaviors, getting to know their child’s friends, asking about online activities, spending time together as a family, and using positive and consistent discipline. With support from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), the Parents’ Guide to Gangs answers common questions about preventing gang involvement.
Research supported by the National Institute of Justice found encouraging results for adapting a delinquency prevention program to prevent youth involvement in gangs and reduce the criminal activities of gang members.
The presence of gangs in schools is declining. In 2019, about 9 percent of students ages 12-18 reported a gang presence at their school—down from 20 percent of students in 2009, according to the 2021 Report on Indicators of School Crime and Safety.
Addressing gang issues in a school environment requires the involvement of law enforcement personnel, school administrators and staff, and other key sectors of the community. The OJJDP Comprehensive Gang Model
In prisons throughout the country, gangs are responsible for a disproportionate amount of misconduct and violence. Their presence and actions challenge efforts to maintain order and safety. Many U.S. prison systems have cited restrictive housing as a successful way to reduce gang violence, although it's a controversial practice.
Visit the following pages for additional information and resources from OJP and other federal sources: