An American Health Problem: One Million Children are Gang Members
Date:  02-23-2015

Children from 5 through 17 are the “hidden population of gang members”
A study of gang members that appeared in the Journal of Adolescent Health followed young people associated with gangs in the age range of 5 through 17. And while the idea that a child of 5 can be considered a gang member is shocking, so is the finding that over one million youths belong to gangs in the United States.

The study also found that that the prevailing idea of never being able to leave a gang once joining is not entirely true. The study states, “For every 401,000 youth who join, another 378,000 youth exit gangs each year years.”

The study concluded that young gang members are 100 times more likely to be murdered than young people who are not associated with gangs. Further, young gang members exist in a “high-risk life state” which subjects them to high risk behaviors, which often leads to public health issues.

There seems to be a continuing cycle of youths joining and youths leaving gangs. The United States is a leader in alternative to incarceration (ATI) programs that divert people from incarceration. Perhaps law enforcement, heath providers, community organizations and federal, state and local governments could make a stronger effort to divert children from gangs. When one considers the young age that children become aware of gangs, and, according to the study, start forming ties with gangs around age 10, and joining gangs at the age of 13, a wise investment would be to invest funds that tackle the problem early-on and use gang diversion methods before a child reaches the point of being able, via a crime, to be accepted in ATI program.

Read the article Gang Membership Between Ages 5 and 17 Years in the United States by David C. Pyrooz, Ph.D., and Gary Sweeten, Ph.D., here.