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National Criminal Justice Service
Gangs are defined in many ways, and most definitions have similar components. One common definition of a gang is a group of three or more individuals who engage in criminal activity and identify themselves with a common name or sign.
At a recent gang conference, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention leadership pointed out it should not be assumed that "indicators of general crime and indicators of gang crime go hand-in-hand." For example, Los Angeles recorded 1,077 homicides in 1993 and 587 homicides in 2001, "just over half the total from 1993. But the number of gang-related homicides in 2001 was exactly the same as it was in 1993: 346 gang homicides." Unfortunately, "our best national indicators of crime do not provide information specifically about gang crime" (Opening Remarks for the National Youth Gang Symposium, 2002). Regardless of whether gang crime has decreased, increased, or remained constant, gangs remain a problem in many areas throughout the nation.
According to respondents to a nationwide mail survey of police agencies conducted in 1995, "53 percent of police respondents said serious gangs had migrated into their community, and 43 percent reported that gangs in their city had expanded to other jurisdictions, including suburban communities" (Responding to Gangs, Evaluation and Research, 2002). In another survey of police departments conducted in 2000, 95 percent of respondents "identified [gang] activity within one or more high schools in their jurisdictions," and 91 percent "reported gang activity within one or more intermediate schools in their jurisdictions" (Highlights of the 2000 National Youth Gang Survey, 2002).
Correctional facilities have also been affected by gang activity. According to a 1999 survey by the National Gang Crime Research Center, gang membership within adult state correctional facilities increased from 9.4% in 1991 to 24.7% in 1999 (A National Assessment of Gangs and Security Threat Groups (STGs) in Adult Correctional Institutions: Results of the 1999 Adult Corrections Survey). Prison gangs, better known as Security Threat Groups, have been defined by the American Correctional Association as "two or more inmates, acting together, who pose a threat to the security or safety of staff/inmates and/or are disruptive to programs and/or to the orderly management of the facility/system."
Incarceration does little to disrupt the violent activities of gang-affiliated inmates. The Federal Bureau of Prisons report, The Influence of Prison Gang Affiliation on Violence and Other Prison Misconduct, 2001, indicates that gang affiliation increases the likelihood of prison violence and other forms of misconduct. The trouble does not end when gang members are released from prison. According to the Highlights of the 2000 National Youth Gang Survey, "seventy-two percent of respondents reported that gang members who returned to the community from prison had a negative impact on youth gang problems, whereas 7 percent reported no impact and 21 percent reported that they could not make a determination. Among agencies that reported an impact, 30 percent reported that returning gang members greatly contributed to the growth of drug trafficking, 19 percent reported that they greatly contributed to an increase in violence among local gangs, and 12 percent reported that they greatly increased local gang access to weapons."
In response to gang violence, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) developed a National Gang Strategy in 1993. The strategy was designed to incorporate the investigative and prosecutorial practices that have proven successful in the Organized Crime/Drug Program National Strategy. Encouraging coordination and information sharing between federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies, the FBI is able to identify violent gang enterprises that pose a significant threat and to pursue these criminals with coordinated investigations that support successful prosecutions. These FBI pursuits are an essential component of the U.S. Department of Justice's overall Anti-Violence Crime Initiative (Federal Bureau of Investigation Violent Crimes and Major Offenders Section, 2002).
As a result of the Anti-Violence Crime Initiative, corrections, parole and probation, and law enforcement are developing strategies to work together and share information. "Police and corrections staff developed procedures to exchange information about offenders who are of particular interest to each of them. For example, police gang units may supply state prison officials with information about the gang affiliations and activities of offenders from their jurisdiction who are sent to prison. In exchange, prison officials may alert local police when gang-involved offenders are about to be released from prison, and describe their gang activities while confined" (Police-Corrections Partnerships, 1999).
The effectiveness of multiagency coordination and integration between police, probation, parole, grassroots organizations, and corrections in controlling and redirecting serious and violent gang members has offered positive results, indicating that serious and violent gang crime can be controlled, if not reduced (Police-Corrections Partnerships, 1999).
The latest information and statistics pulled from a wide variety of Gangs publications.
This document is not necessarily endorsed by the Almanac of Policy Issues. It is being preserved in the Policy Archive for historic reasons.