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Youth Gangs: Issues, Concerns and Promising Strategies. Gregory Owens, LMSW 2011. “The Chief Problem In Any Community Cursed With Crime Is Not The Punishment Of The Criminals, But The Preventing Of The Young From Being Trained To Crime.” -W.E.B. Du Bois-.

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“The Chief Problem In Any Community Cursed With Crime Is Not The Punishment Of The Criminals, But The Preventing Of The Young From Being Trained To Crime.”

-W.E.B. Du Bois-

Gregory Owens, LMSW


New YorkGang members indicted in connection with "hit" (Kingston, NY): Seven members of the Sex, Money, Murder Gang and their associates were indicted by an Ulster County grand jury on eight counts in connection with theretaliation murder of a fellow gang member, who they thought was a snitch.Source: Mid-Hudson News    Date: April 2, 2010 York21-year-old shot to death in Newburgh (Newburgh, NY): A 21-year-old man was shot and killed, likely for revenge, Friday night, capping a 24-hour spate of gang violence that police said was among the bloodiest in Newburgh's history. Source: Times Herald-Record    Date: March 14, 2010 YorkPolice, ATF pick up gang members (Niagara Falls, NY): Two gang members being sought in connection with the recent rash of violence in the city were picked up Monday and Tuesday by Falls police. Source: Niagara Gazette    Date: March 17, 2010

Gregory Owens, LMSW

who can we learn from
Who Can We Learn From?
  • Those who successfully avoided recruitment efforts.
  • Those who joined and were able to get out.
  • Those who are still involved.
  • Family of all three groups!

Gregory Owens, LMSW


A brief history of gangs

A.D. 350-430 St. Augustine wrote in his confessions of the pleasure of stealing pears in the company of his adolescent accomplices: “My pleasure was not in those pears, it was in the offense itself, which the company of fellow sinners occasioned.”

Records of life in 17th century London mention youth gangs who terrorized the citizenry by breaking windows, destroying taverns and fighting, each group wearing different colored ribbons.

Gregory Owens, LMSW


National Youth Gang Center (2009). National Youth Gang Survey Analysis. Retrieved from

Gregory Owens, LMSW


National Youth Gang Center (2009). National Youth Gang Survey Analysis. Retrieved from

Gregory Owens, LMSW


National Youth Gang Center (2009). National Youth Gang Survey Analysis. Retrieved from

Gregory Owens, LMSW

who are gang members
Who are Gang Members?

“Human Beings. They are someone’s son, daughter, sister, brother, husband, wife, etc. This is a simple notion that is often forgotten. It is a key notion to treatment.”

Lisa Taylor Austin – Gang Expert at 2004 NYS Gang Summit

Gregory Owens, LMSW

elements necessary for a group to be considered a gang
Elements Necessary For A Group To Be Considered A Gang
  • 3 or more members.
  • Members are generally between 12 and 24 years old.
  • Members share a sense of identity.
  • Some permanence - generally a year or more.
  • Criminal activity is a central element of the group.

Gregory Owens, LMSW



  • “Street gangs are an amalgam of racism, of urban underclass poverty, of minority and youth culture, of fatalism in the face of rampant deprivation, of political insensitivity and the gross ignorance of inner-city (and inner-town) America on the part of most of us who don’t have to survive there.”

Hagedorn, Klein and Jackson

  • Gangs are a product of postindustrial development.


  • Structural and community factors are important. Delinquency/gangs are the product of social environment.

Gregory Owens, LMSW

five domains
Five Domains
  • Individual and Personal Attributes
  • Family Demographics
  • Peer Group
  • School
  • Community

Gregory Owens, LMSW


Peers, Peer Group and School

Gregory Owens, LMSW


Community and Neighborhood

Gregory Owens, LMSW

risk and protective factors
Risk and Protective Factors
  • Cumulative Impact
  • More research needed

Gregory Owens, LMSW

other factors
Other Factors
  • Identity
  • Affiliation
  • Attachment
  • Stability
  • Adolescence!!

Gregory Owens, LMSW

gangs in schools
Gangs In Schools

For Consideration

School Specific Strategies

Target students most vulnerable to gang recruitment.

Establish mentoring programs.

Establish moral and ethical educational programs.

Offer educational programs for students about gangs.

Provide regular opportunities for students to discuss their experiences in school.

  • Schools can camouflage the impact of the presence of gangs.
  • Gangs in schools can increase tension and the level of violence.
  • Gangs can increase the presence of drugs in schools.
  • Schools are impacted by violence spilling over from the community.
  • Schools are becoming centers for gang activity.
  • Gangs can spread from school to school (implications for suspension, discipline and other policies).

Gregory Owens, LMSW

impact strategies
Impact Strategies
  • Intervention
  • Suppression
  • The National Education Association
  • Prevention
  • Secondary prevention
  • Early intervention

Gregory Owens, LMSW


A Schematic of Prevention, Intervention, Suppression, and Comprehensive Programs.

Some risk (sometimes minimal)

exists (e.g., local youth are at

risk for joining street gangs; there is a risk for street gangs to emerge and/or grow in a particular geographic location)

Risk has manifested into an actual problem (e.g., the emergence and continuation of local street gangs; increased gang membership and violence among local youth)

Prevention Programs

Intervention and Suppression Programs

Tend to be law

enforcement based; focus on suppressing

gangs and gang activity

Attempt to prevent gang membership, gang crime

and/or gang emergence/growth

Tend to have a social service orientation; focus on re-integrating gang members into the community

Comprehensive Programs

These programs combine interventions and suppression techniques, as well as (at times) prevention tactics; necessitate collaboration among numerous agencies and groups.

Jean M. McGloin

extraction exiting issues
Extraction/Exiting Issues
  • Very serious and can be dangerous
  • Must be done by trained and talented people
  • Requires a process and extensive networking
  • Must include family, faith and community based resources as well as law enforcement
  • Highly individualized and confidential strategies

Gregory Owens, LMSW


Action Steps

  • Be Aware.
  • Be willing to accept the truth that youth gangs exist and can be dangerous.
  • Be analytical; determine the facts.
  • Be open to the facts.
  • Plan based upon the facts and not what you want the reality to be.
  • Make this an agency/organization priority.
  • Develop this as an agency initiative.
  • Seek support from all staff and select youth.
  • Assign a full time staff member to manage the initiative.
  • Seek training from recognized expert(s).
  • Include parents if possible.

Gregory Owens, LMSW


Action Steps, cont.

  • Develop an agency policy about youth gangs.
  • Define in specific language what “zero tolerance” means (most ZT Policies are not working).
  • Include language that places a focus on prevention, intervention and community involvement .
  • Learn what you need to know.
  • Begin to recognize the signs of gang activity.
  • Begin to look at incidents through a new lens (examine the possibility that a group incident is gang related).

Gregory Owens, LMSW


Action Steps, cont.

  • Develop a forum for youth to talk about the issue.
  • Make this a part of the discussion as you engage in treatment and counseling.
  • Document gang activities and behaviors that happen in the program.
  • Develop a database of information based on what you can document.

Gregory Owens, LMSW


Learn What You Need To Know

  • Know the current recruitment methods.
  • Know current initiation rituals.
  • Identify areas where gangs could gain an appearance of power and control.
  • Differentiate various levels of affiliation and involvement.

Gregory Owens, LMSW


OJJDP Comprehensive Gang Strategy: One Gang Intervention Strategy

  • Community mobilization
  • Provision of academic, economic & social opportunities
  • Social intervention
  • Gang suppression
  • Organizational change & development

Gregory Owens, LMSW

closing thoughts
Closing Thoughts
  • There is no single clear solution to preventing or reducing gang activity.
  • Juveniles do not join gangs for life.
  • More girls are joining gangs and engaging in violent delinquent behavior.
  • Gangs are not solely an inner city phenomenon, or comprised of youth of color. Youth gang members come from a variety of backgrounds.
  • A comprehensive approach, using prevention, suppression and intervention strategies will be most effective.

Gregory Owens, LMSW


General ReferencesAsbury, H. 1970 [1927]. The Gangs of New York: An Informal History of the Underworld. New York: Capricorn Books.Covey, H. C., Menard, S., & Franzese, R. J., eds. (1997). Juvenile Gangs, 2nd edition. Springfield, IL: Charles C. Thomas. Klein, M. & Maxson, C. (2006). Street Gang Patterns and Policies. New York: Oxford University Press. Jankowski, M. S. (1991). Islands in the Street: Gangs and American Urban Society. Berkeley: University of California Press.Schneider, E. C. (1999). Vampires, Dragons, and Egyptian Kings: Youth Gangs in Postwar New York. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Spergel, I. A. (1990). Youth Gangs: Continuity and Change. Crime and Justice, 12. Thrasher, F. M. (1947 [1927]). The Gang: A Study of 1,313 Gangs in Chicago. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Gregory Owens, LMSW


Resources for Action Steps Guide to Assessing Gang Problem:

Gang Prevention: An Overview of Research and Programs

New York Gang Investigators Association

History of gangs in America

National Gang Center

Gregory Owens, LMSW


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