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Youth Gangs, Drugs, and Violence Connection

NCJ Number
Date Published
January 1999
12 pages
Publication Series
This report examines the relationships among youth gangs, drugs, and violent gangs, with emphasis on whether drug trafficking is a main activity of youth gangs, whether drug trafficking is a main cause or violence in youth gangs or only a correlate, and other causes of gang violence.
The discussion considers youth gangs as consisting of adolescents and young adults ages 12-24 years. The analysis concludes that little data exists to support the popular image of gang migration for the explicit purpose of establishing drug trafficking operations in distant locations and that interstate drug trafficking is mainly the province of adult criminal organizations. In addition, youth gang members actively engage in drug use, drug trafficking, and violent crime. Most gang members have engaged in illegal activities that generally include violence before they join gangs. Some youth gangs are involved in street-level drug trafficking, but they generally do not appear to control drug trafficking operations. Most gang violence is endemic to gang life and is separate from drug trafficking for several reasons. Most of the growth in youth gang homicides appears to be independent of the increase in gang drug trafficking. Gang violence has been exacerbated by the ready availability and use of guns, but the role of guns in gang-related violence is not well understood. The findings suggest that as a matter of policy, youth gang drug trafficking needs to be addressed separately from adult criminal drug trafficking organizations. Individual communities need to assess their local gang problems and develop a response tailored to the particular problems they are experiencing. Photographs, footnotes, and 143 references

Date Published: January 1, 1999