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Youth Gangs: Problem and Response

NCJ Number
Irving Spergel
Date Published
210 pages

This draft report presents the results of an extensive review of the research literature on the youth-gang phenomenon.


The review describes what is known about youth gangs in the United States; explains gang phenomena, primarily within social disorganization and poverty perspectives; and describes and assesses organized responses to the problem. The first part of the report contains six chapters on the "Nature of the Problem." The first chapter considers definitional issues and data sources, followed by five chapters that address the scope and seriousness of the gang problem, the group character of youth gangs, membership demographics, membership experience, and the social contexts of youth gang development. The second part of the report, "Response to the Problem," focuses on organized responses to the gang problem, with attention to existing and evolving strategies, policies, and programs of youth service, criminal justice, and community-based organizations, as well as Federal and State legislative initiatives. One chapter in this section discusses the historical roots and development of key antigang strategies, followed by a chapter that discusses social intervention strategies, with attention to evaluation. Other chapters consider police gang-suppression strategies and the approaches of prosecutors, defense attorneys, and judges in addressing the gang problem. Remaining chapters address current emerging probation, parole, and corrections strategies; the importance of social opportunities, especially improved education and employment opportunities for gang youth; and community mobilization to counter gangs. The final chapter summarizes key findings of the review and provides policy recommendations. 384 references