Youth gangs -- a big issue with many theories but poor research

April 16, 2008

Youth gangs cause considerable personal and social damage worldwide, yet while there are many theories about how they form and how to prevent young people becoming involved, there is no evidence to back two of the key theories, according to the results of two Cochrane Systematic Reviews.

One review (CD007002) looked to see whether providing opportunities such as after-school clubs prevented gang membership. The other (CD007008) tried to find out if cognitive-behavioural interventions can prevent young people aged between 7 and 16 from joining gangs. Despite studying 2,696 publications relating to youth gangs, the Cochrane Reviewers were unable to find any randomised controlled trials or quasi-randomised controlled trials that studied these issues.

Current estimates suggest that in the USA alone there are currently 24,000 gangs with 760,000 members, and internationally street gangs have been identified in developed and developing countries in South America, Europe, Asia and Africa.

“This lack of research is surprising given the scale of the problem,” says lead researcher Dr Paul Montgomery who works at the Centre for Evidence-based Intervention at the University of Oxford, UK.

“There is an urgent need to rigorously evaluate the various gang prevention strategies that people suggest and try to implement, if we are going to be able to direct resources well and build future gang prevention programmes that have a good chance of working,” says Montgomery.

Source: Wiley

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not rated yet Apr 16, 2008
I read an interesting paper many years ago which suggested that nearly all the people involved in youth gangs in Chinese communities later became established members of the regular, law-abiding community. If this is so, then there may be a reluctance for people to fund projects which look too closely into what prominent people regard as a passing youthful indulgence.
not rated yet Apr 16, 2008
That's beyond bizarre reasoning. Maybe, MAYBE, Chinese youth gangs are far different from the "gangs" we have here in the States, but I find that hard to believe.

Granted, it's a statement in the dark, but I seriously doubt "nearly all" let alone a few gang members ever become prominent people in society.

I also find it hard to believe there's a debate over why youth gangs form... "Comradarie in a shitty environment" sums it up to me.


Most are killed or crowding our jails this very instant. That paper your read sounds exactly what the article is talking about, "many theories but poor research."
not rated yet Apr 16, 2008
Gangs, at least in the US, are often a substitute for functional families. Not only do families offer guidance, support, and companionship, but they also promote at least some degree of social responsibility. Unfortunately, the social responsibility gangs promote generally involves criminal behavior.
not rated yet Apr 16, 2008
Yes, earls, that paper may have been quite specific to the Chinese community in San Francisco; Chinese place a great emphasis on the family and doing things as a group. I'm sorry I have no reference, the only other thing I can remember is that the author (a professor?) had himself been a member of a Chinese gang. Regardless, I also have observed gangs that simply promote greater and greater mischief. Part of the point may be that teens do anti-social things which they eventually grow out of.

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