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What are the major risk factors for gang membership?

According to the National Gang Center, risk factors that predispose many youths to gang membership are also linked to a variety of adolescent problem behaviors, including serious violence and delinquency. The major risk factor domains are individual characteristics, family conditions, school experiences and performance, peer group influences, and the community context. Risk factors predictive of gang membership include prior and/or early involvement in delinquency, especially violence and alcohol/drug use; poor family management and problematic parent-child relations; low school attachment and achievement and negative labeling by teachers; association with aggressive peers and peers who engage in delinquency; and neighborhoods in which large numbers of youth are in trouble and in which drugs and firearms are readily available (Howell and Egley, 2005; see also Esbensen, 2000; Hill, Lui, and Hawkins, 2001; Thornberry, 1998; Wyrick and Howell, 2004). The accumulation of risk factors greatly increases the likelihood of gang involvement, just as it does for other problem behaviors. The presence of risk factors in multiple risk-factor domains appears to increase the likelihood of gang involvement even more ( Thornberry et al., 2003). A complete enumeration of risk factors for juvenile delinquency and gang involvement and data indicators can be accessed at the National Gang Center Web site (http://www.iir.com/nygc/tool/).


Esbensen, F. A. 2000. Preventing Adolescent Gang Involvement. Youth Gang Series. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. (Adobe PDF)

Howell, J. C., and Egley, A., Jr. 2005. "Moving Risk Factors Into Developmental Theories of Gang Membership." Youth Violence and Juvenile Justice, 3(4), 334-354.

Hill, K. G., Lui, C., and Hawkins, J. D. 2001. Early Precursors of Gang Membership: A Study of Seattle Youth. Bulletin. Youth Gang Series. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. ( Adobe PDF)

Thornberry, T. P. 1998. "Membership in Youth Gangs and Involvement in Serious and Violent Offending." In R. Loeber and D. P. Farrington (Eds.), Serious and Violent Juvenile Offenders: Risk Factors and Successful Interventions, Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Wyrick, P. A., and Howell, J. C. (2004). "Strategic Risk-Based Response to Youth Gangs," Juvenile Justice, 10(1), 20-29. ( Adobe PDF)

Thornberry, T. P., Krohn, M. D., Lizotte, A. J., Smith, C. A., and Tobin, K. 2003. Gangs and Delinquency in Developmental Perspective, New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

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