Juveniles and gangs: Prevention through education

Educating the youth about gang membership can help them make informed choices in life

In the many faces of criminal justice, strategies are constantly being revised and implemented in the wake of deviance in communities. The demand and overall pressure from citizens has placed extra responsibility on law enforcement agencies to develop and implement ways of deterring crime and informing the public of ways to participate.

One program aimed at reducing deviance and through crime prevention is the availability and demonstration of gang programs and strategies. In this article, I will discuss a crime prevention program, particularly gang programs and strategies, highlight its main goal, and explain the theoretical underpinnings of the proposed program.

In the various realms of the criminal justice field, many programs are developed to address the needs of specific problems in communities and neighborhoods. Gang membership and formation is on the rise and strategies and programs to tackle this looming problem have been quite fruitful. Many of these crime prevention programs aimed at reducing gang formation and violence have often been centered on community-based initiatives.

The BJA Center for Program Evaluation has community-based gang programs/strategies that can be grouped into the following categories: prevention of gang membership; intervention with current gang members to address membership and behavior; suppression approaches; or comprehensive, mixed methods strategies.

All of these aforementioned strategies aim to educate juveniles and the youth about the dangers of joining gangs and increase their awareness of life skills. These established gang crime prevention programs aim to educate the youth in the classrooms about membership and to help improve their critical thinking skills in order to desist from such deviant activities.

Helping the youth learn through an interactive curriculum in the classrooms will decrease their chances of joining a gang. Through the first phase of informing the youth about deviance, they will be able to increase pro-social attitudes to law enforcement, develop an understanding of pro-social thinking, and foster their knowledge.

The social-learning theory best suits this strategy developed within the gang crime prevention program because it posits that one is likely to conform if those surrounding him or her maintain pro-social outlooks on life and rejects anti-social behavior and deviance. Social-learning theory offers an explanation of crime and deviance that embraces variables that operate both to motivate and control criminal behavior, both to promote and undermine conformity.

One such specific program educating the youth about gang violence is the Gang Resistance Education and Training program. Basically, the technique used to foster awareness among youth in the classrooms was modeled after the cognitive-behavioral strategies most often used in intermediate sanctions such as work release or even in larger prison systems. Although addressing the needs of the youth is the main premise of gang programs, it is only comprises of a fraction of what is done to reduce gang violence.

Programs aimed at educating juveniles pushes the need for law enforcement to develop external strategies aimed at physical combat of gang violence through investigations, surveillance methods, and ultimately, raids.

The combination of law enforcement’s strategies aimed at cracking down on gang and gang violence as well as increasing punishments for offenders has its theoretical underpinnings in deterrence theory. Deterrence theory (with the concepts of increasing punishment and setting examples) either, specific or general helps reduce and suppress violent gang activities. Although some may argue that streets strategies aimed at gang violence may spread the problem elsewhere (social disorganization theory). 

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