In many areas around the world, juvenile gang intervention strategies are desperately needed. Juvenile gang violence plagues many communities throughout the United States and the world. Children commonly join gangs due to different causes such as poverty, the need for a sense of belonging or protection, and peer pressure.
However, being in a gang presents many dangers to children. These young gang members are often forced to participate criminal activity and at times, they are at risk of injury or even death. In addition, being in a gang often leads to truancy and conflicts with the gang member’s parents, school administrators, and community officials.
There is a misconception that gangs are only a problem in major cities. Researchers from the National Gang Center found that large cities were responsible for 32.6% of juveniles in gangs, while rural counties were responsible for 58.9% of juveniles in gangs. According to the National Gang Center, this statistic differs from adult gang members, who are predominantly in large cities.
Juvenile Gang Intervention Strategies from Communities Can Be Helpful
Whether gang activity is occurring within an urban or rural setting, community intervention to prevent juvenile gang activity can be effective in reducing the problem. However, juvenile gang intervention strategies are the responsibility of many different community stakeholders.
For instance, dealing with juvenile gangs is not only a police problem. Schools, clergy, local community centers, youth counselors and service organizations that help children must work together to mitigate juvenile gang activity in conjunction with local police officers.
One of the first steps that should be conducted is an assessment to determine the overall scope of the gang problem. For example, youth counselors can talk with juveniles who are in detention for gang-related activities. Also, trusted members of the community can survey children about local juvenile gang involvement. Trusted members can include clergy and community counselors who are not law enforcement who can talk with local juveniles.
A vital part of the community assessment would be to determine the average age when children are recruited into gangs. Knowing the average age of gang member recruitment is useful because intervention programs can be targeted toward vulnerable children just below this average age to reach potential gang members before they are fully influenced by a gang.
Once an understanding of the scope of the local gang problem is established, the next step should be to build buy-in and collaboration with all community stakeholders. Often, a local law enforcement agency or a community services organization can serve as the backbone organization to launch juvenile gang intervention strategies.
Related link: MS-13 Gangs: An Increasing Threat to the World
Establishing Juvenile Gang Mitigation Strategies
Establishing effective gang intervention strategies involves different services from community stakeholders. Ideally, these services should be offered continually, not just on a one-time basis.
For instance, local officials could establish a community center to attract children, draw them off the streets and occupy their time usefully. Services offered through this type of community center should be aimed at addressing children’s vulnerability for gang involvement.
Many children are drawn to gangs so that they can feel a sense of belonging. Community center programs, however, should be designed to provide children with the same sense of belonging in a safe space.
In many places around the world, children enter gangs because they have no vision of the world outside of their personal circumstances and have lost hope that their lives will get better. Community centers have an important role in teaching children life skills and training that can be used in the future to help them find gainful employment.
Life skills training within community centers should focus on conflict resolution, anger management and goal-setting. Children can also learn additional skills that set them up for future success, and community center leaders can provide the attention these children are not receiving at home.
Everyone Needs to Play an Active Role in Gang Prevention
Juvenile gang intervention strategies must replace the time that children would normally spend in community gangs. While prevention and intervention strategies are important, law enforcement officers should have an active role in gang prevention.
In particular, police officers should target gang members who recruit children and be proactive in making arrests. Often, information on local gang activity and its perpetrators can be gained through the trust that youth counselors and others build with children. This information is invaluable for law enforcement.
However, protecting children who provide this information is critically important. For safety, local gang members should never become aware of who is providing counselors or law enforcement with information about their gang’s activities.
For children with previous gang involvement who participate in intervention programs, the trauma that they experience should be addressed by qualified counselors or clergy members. Local schools and other community stakeholders can also collaborate to reduce gang member truancy.
On its own, one community organization is unlikely to make a significant difference in reducing juvenile gang activity. However, when many community stakeholders come together in a collaborative and organized initiative to mitigate juvenile gang activity, it is much more likely to be successful.
Currently, I am developing juvenile gang intervention strategies for a community in Central America struggling with a major juvenile gang problem. Anyone who wishes to learn more about this initiative or has additional insight into mitigating juvenile gang involvement is welcome to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.