Gangs are source of violence, not protection, study says Youths mistakenly think they have found haven


WASHINGTON -- A new Justice Department study challenges conventional wisdom about gangs, saying that those who join gangs for protection from neighborhood violence often suffer serious brutality in the assaults that are part of their initiation rites.

"Many youths are under the mistaken impression that they will be safer by joining a gang, while this report shows the exact opposite," Attorney General Janet Reno said in a statement. "Our challenge is to educate young people so they realize that staying away from gangs is the safest course."

The study also found that gang members were more likely to commit crimes involving drugs, auto theft and shootings than their nongang peers. Gang members are also more likely to possess weapons.

"Kids who join gangs for status or protection usually end up getting in more trouble," said Irving Spergel, a professor at the University of Chicago and head of the Gang Research and Technical Assistance Group. "Kids who manage to avoid gangs have found their self-esteem elsewhere."

The report, sponsored by the Justice Department's Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention and National Institute of Justice, examined criminal behavior of gang members and of those susceptible to gang membership in Colorado and Florida.

Pub Date: 11/22/98

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