Over one million juvenile gang members in US: Study

Over one million juvenile gang members in US: Study

HomeUSSociety Sat Feb 14, 2015 2:40PM

There are more than one million juvenile gang members in the United States, over three times the number estimated by law enforcement agencies, a new study has found.

An average of 2 percent of teenagers in the US are in gangs, with involvement highest at age 14, when about 5 percent of youth are gang members, according to the study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health.

Adolescent gang members also come from all types of backgrounds and include many females, researchers said.

“The public has been led to believe that gang members are black and Latino males and that once someone joins a gang they cannot leave a gang, both of which are patently false,” said David Pyrooz, co-author of the study and assistant professor of Criminal Justice at Sam Houston State University.

These stereotypes are reinforced by Hollywood movies and law enforcement officials, according to the study.

“Rich and poor, black and white, male and female, and one and two-parent households — what matters is that law enforcement and health care clinicians avoid the stereotypes of these kids when working with this population.” said coauthor Gary Sweeten, associate professor of criminology and criminal justice at Arizona State University.

Law enforcement agencies have estimated the number of gang members at about 300,000, far less than what the study found.

The reason, Pyrooz said, is because “law enforcement uses a top-down strategy, recording older and more criminally-involved youth as gang members, which ignores younger and more peripherally gang-involved youth, all of whom are captured in the bottom-up strategy we use in this study.”

American gangs are responsible for up to 80 percent of crimes in communities across the country, according to a report by the US Justice Department’s National Gang Intelligence Center.

The activities of these criminal groups are highly varied, and include drug trade, weapon sales, human trafficking (prostitution and kidnapping), theft, illegal gambling, murder and terrorism.

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