AMU Law Enforcement Original Public Safety

Gang Recruitment and How to Protect Your Children

Gangs exist within communities throughout the United States, and they continue to thrive because of gang recruitment. Between working in law enforcement as a gang liaison officer and speaking with gang members as a researcher, I have heard many stories of how people have been recruited.

What Is the Appeal of Gangs?

For many members, gangs fill a void in someone’s life, providing a sense of acceptance and belonging to a family. For instance, children who come from broken homes, have families with substance abuse problems, and lack parental supervision are especially at risk of being recruited into gangs.

Another reason that people join gangs is for protection. Some communities are especially violent, and gang members look after each other.

How Young Gang Members Are Typically Recruited

Gang recruitment most commonly occurs within public schools, and kids as young as 9 years old may be invited to join a particular gang. From my experience in law enforcement, the most common age when children are recruited into gangs is 13.

The juvenile justice system does not want to prosecute children of this age, and gangs are well aware of this fact. Consequently, gang members attempt to recruit children because those children are less likely to do time for serious crimes such as felonies.

Social media is also a common tool in gang recruitment. Social media glamorizes gang life by showing images that portray wealth, success and access to girls.

People who are susceptible to gang recruitment don’t see the dangers associated with being part of a gang. That’s not advertised on social media.

The Inside View of Being a Gang Member

I once interviewed a former gang member, who was recruited into a Los Angeles gang at the age of 13. He was involved in drug trafficking, several levels of human trafficking and other serious crimes. At 15, this gang member participated in a drug deal and decided to murder the person who sold him the drugs, rather than paying for them.

He was caught and incarcerated for 27 years. Had he been an adult, this former gang member would likely have been in prison for life.

During his time in prison, he continued to be a gang member for several years. Now, he actively works to increase public awareness of the dangers of gangs and speaks to schoolchildren in about the importance of staying away from gangs.

Fortunately, this former gang member is a productive member of society; spirituality enabled him to turn away from gang life. He serves as a counselor to help others escape gang life.

How Music Portrays a False Impression of Gang Life

This former gang member said that “gangs are using music to recruit children. Rap artists from different parts of the world such as the United States, Central America, or Mexico are influencing children. They portray a lifestyle that children want so badly that they will kill for it.”

Some musicians are calling out their rivals and encouraging children to commit violent acts. When there is a high-profile murder of an artist, the media glorifies it as in the case of King Von. The murder of this Chicago rapper, known for his lyrics involving violence and gang life, made national news according to NPR.

Media coverage of these high-profile artists appears to be encouraging impressionable children to follow the gang lifestyle that the artist portrays.

Preventing Gang Recruitment

Parents can take steps to reduce the risk of their children being recruited into a gang. For instance, they can convey the risks of gang membership to help kids understand that all gang members are criminals.

Although gangs portray prosperity, most gang members don’t make more than minimum wage, according to the National Crime Prevention Council. Children should be warned of the dangers of social media sites and reminded to avoid accepting connection requests from people they don’t know.

Parents should also encourage conversations with their children. Kids should feel comfortable approaching their parents if they have been associating with people who may be involved with a gang.

Fortunately, steps can be taken to mitigate gang activity within s community. According to, these steps include:

  • Supporting family units and training for parents
  • Strengthening community-level youth supervision and monitoring for gang activity
  • Enforcing punitive sanctions for delinquency and gang behaviors
  • Ensuring teenager supervision after school
  • Training in both the dangers and indicators of gang life for school officials, parents, and children
  • Creating meaningful anti-bullying campaigns within schools
  • Providing improved protection for schoolchildren who are the targets of bullies

If your child has been the victim of gang recruitment, there are various options to help your child escape. Be sure to speak with school resource officers and administrators to help your kid escape from gang involvement.

Jarrod Sadulski

Dr. Jarrod Sadulski is an associate professor in the School of Security and Global Studies and has over two decades in the field of criminal justice. His expertise includes training on countering human trafficking, maritime security, effective stress management in policing and narcotics trafficking trends in Latin America. Jarrod frequently conducts in-country research and consultant work in Central and South America on human trafficking and current trends in narcotics trafficking. He also has a background in business development. For more information on Jarrod and links to his social media and website, check out

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