Imagine two children, both with the exact same risk factors for joining a gang. As teenagers, one joins a gang, the other doesn't. Even though the first teen eventually leaves the gang, years later he or she is not only at significantly higher risk of being incarcerated and receiving illegal income, but is also less likely to have finished high school and more likely to be in poor health, receiving government assistance or struggling with drug abuse.
University of Washington researchers have found that joining a gang in adolescence has significant consequences in adulthood beyond criminal behavior, even after a person leaves the gang. The research is published in the American Journal of Public Health.
"It turns out that, like violence, gang membership is as much a public health problem as a criminal justice problem," said Karl Hill, study co-author and research associate professor in the School of Social Work. "Joining a gang in the teens had enduring consequences on health and well-being."
The Seattle Social Development Project, which was founded by study co-author J. David Hawkins, followed 808 fifth-grade students from 18 elementary schools serving high-crime neighborhoods in Seattle, beginning in 1985. More than half of the students came from low-income families. Participants were interviewed every year until the age of 18, then every three years until the age of 33.
According to lead author Amanda Gilman, a doctoral candidate in the School of Social Work, joining a gang served as a turning point, creating consequences that cascaded into other areas of life for years afterward.
"Very few of them reported still being in a gang at age 27. The vast majority had left a long time ago, but the consequences stuck with them long-term," Gilman said.
Researchers used 23 risk factors to calculate a child's propensity for joining a gang, and then compared 173 youth who had joined a gang with 173 who did not
|Contact: Amanda Gilman|
University of Washington