Young People Can Leave Gangs
Although many young gang members often speak of the “positive” aspects of gang life, the negative consequences far outweigh any perceived benefits. Former gang members have shared a number of reasons for wanting to leave a gang, including fear of personal injury, imprisonment, or death; anticipation of sibling involvement; and the birth of a child. There are things you can do to assist a young person who wants to escape a gang and begin living a positive lifestyle.
These seven strategies integrate gang prevention education and the creation of positive alternatives to gangs.
Educate young people about the costs and consequences of gang
involvement. Gang members may risk personal injury from rival
gangs, injury to family members, and even death. To combat the
growing number of gang-related crimes and offenses, new laws
now support some of the stiffest penalties for gang-related offenses.
These include larger fines and longer sentences—15 years or
more for gun violations, drug trafficking, and violence.
Keep youth in school and enrolled in positive activities when the
school day ends. Find ways to help at-risk youth by developing
interesting schoolwide programs or taking part in the National
Crime Prevention Council’s Community Works curriculum. Help
create and coordinate afterschool learning and recreational activities
for latchkey youth, so that they do not participate in delinquency
during these critical afternoon hours.
Raise awareness among parents and students of the signs of gang
activity. When students understand gang characteristics, they will
know who and what to avoid. Advocate for a school dress code that
prohibits any clothing or symbols that suggest gang membership.
Provide students with opportunities to practice refusal skills.
Create realistic scenarios and allow young people to role-play
appropriate responses. Promote self-esteem and responsible decisionmaking;
these developmental skills will bolster youth confidence
Make sure your school is a designated drug-free and gun-free site
and that your students are aware of this status. Declaring your school
a safe zone allows students to feel protected. Criminal violations
within these zones are serious and carry stiff fines and penalties.
Engage students in community service or service-learning projects.
Allow students to select, plan, and execute a project that addresses
a concern or issue in their school or community. Community
service can increase positive attitudes toward others, the community,
and the future.
Many gang members have safely left gangs. Encourage youth who
want to leave a gang to talk to an adult they trust and respect. You
may need to direct these young people to appropriate social services,
victim service providers, crisis hotlines, or other community
support agencies. For help locating local victim service providers,
go to the Office for Victims of Crime, Directory of Crime
Victim Services website (http://ovc.ncjrs.org/findvictimservices).
You can also refer youth to The National Center for Victims of
Crime Helpline (800-FYI-CALL), which is open for calls
Monday through Friday, 8:30 AM to 8:30 PM EST. Hopeline
(800-442-HOPE) is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Both crisis hotlines will speak with youth and help them find
local resources to help youth leave gangs. Community religious
leaders can also provide counsel and assistance to youth in need.