Karen M. Hennigan, Cheryl L. Maxson, David C. Sloane, Kathy A. Kolnick & Flor Vindel. Identifying high-risk youth for secondary gang prevention. Journal of Crime and Justice: Vol. 37, Issue 1, 2014, pp. 104-128.
Efforts to reduce gang violence by deterring youth from joining street gangs are of major interest in cities across the United States. Current thinking supports a comprehensive gang reduction approach that includes concurrent efforts that prevent joining, encourage leaving, and interrupt gang violence. This paper focuses on a method of strengthening the prevention component by improving the identification of youth at high risk for gang joining. The authors advocate a secondary prevention approach supported by an empirically based assessment of risk factors consistently associated with gang joining in rigorous studies across multiple locations in the United States, Canada, and Europe.
The process of developing a Gang Risk of Entry Factors (GREF) assessment tool to identify youth at high risk for gang involvement is described in the context of the authors’ collaboration with ongoing comprehensive gang reduction efforts undertaken by the City of Los Angeles. The rationale for the approach as well as the framework used to create and implement the assessment in a collaborative context is detailed.
Process-level data is reported on the usefulness of the assessment for identifying high-risk clients for secondary gang prevention. Analyses suggest that boys referred to the gang reduction program had risk levels that were no higher than risk levels observed in general school populations on three of the four risk factors compared (though the girls referred were higher risk on these factors). Using the assessment to screen youth allowed programs to identify and enroll only the subset of youth with risk levels similar to youth from the same neighborhoods who self-reported gang involvement on six of the eight risk factors.
Identifying youth with high risks provides the opportunity to implement secondary gang prevention programs that are more intensive than programs typically provided for primary prevention. The assessment supports more intensive efforts that can be focused on a common set of risks the clients are experiencing, as well as challenges unique to each individual.