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Gangs and Violence: Disentangling the Impact of Gang Membership on the Level and Nature of Offending

NCJ Number
Journal of Quantitative Criminology Volume: 29 Issue: 2 Dated: June 2013 Pages: 143-166
Chris Melde; Finn-Aage Esbensen
Date Published
June 2013
24 pages
To determine whether membership in youth gangs provides a unique social forum for violence amplification. This study examines whether gang membership increases the odds of violent offending over and above involvement in general delinquent and criminal behavior.
Five waves of data from a multi-site 7 cities panel study of over 3,700 youth originally nested within 31 schools are analyzed. The authors estimate four level repeated measures item response theory models, which include a parameter to differentiate the difference in the log of the expected event-rate for violent offense items to the log of the expected event-rate for nonviolent offense items. Depending on the comparison group gang youth, overall sample, periods of active gang membership were associated with a 10 or 21 percent increase in the odds of involvement in violent incidents. When the sample is restricted to youth who report gang membership during the study, the proportionate increase in the odds of violence associated with gangs is statistically similar for males and females. After youth reported leaving the gang their propensity for violence was not significantly different than comparison group observations, although levels of general offending remain elevated. While results are limited by the school-based sampling strategy, the importance of gang prevention and intervention programming for violence reduction is highlighted. Preventing youth from gang membership or shortening the length of gang careers through interventions may reduce absolute levels of violence. (Published Abstract)