Prevention, disengagement and suppression: a systematic review of the literature on strategies for addressing young people's involvement in gangs

OUTPUT TYPE: Research report- client
PUBLICATION YEAR: 2007
TITLE AUTHOR(S): A.Cooper, C.L.Ward
KEYWORDS: CHILD ABUSE, GANGS, YOUTH
DEPARTMENT: Human and Social Development (HSD)
Print: HSRC Library: shelf number 4983

If you would like to obtain a copy of this Research Output, please contact Hanlie Baudin at researchoutputs@hsrc.ac.za.

Abstract

Despite the fact that gang research has a long history, there is limited evidence that attempts to intervene or prevent young people from joining gangs have been successful. The limits in the evidence are partly due to the fact that few good quality evaluations have been carried out, and therefore it is difficult to draw definitive conclusions based on sound science. In other words, because we don't have the sound science, programmes might be doing well, or they might be doing badly - we just don't know. The lack of evidence is also due to the nature of the gang problem: gangs are by-products of communities suffering from multiple social problems, such as poor education and unemployment. These are complex problems, and solutions to these problems are always going to need to be complex. Solving the problem of gangs is therefore not simple: multi-focus, complex programmes are needed. Because the causes and the solutions are complex, understanding them scientifically is also much more complex than it would be if they were simple. Nonetheless, there have been attempts to address gangs, in different cities around the world, and we do have some evidence from these attempts. Interventions to alleviate the problem of young people's involvement in gangs are usually classified as prevention, disengagement or suppression. Preventative measures aim to stop young people from getting involved in gangs in the first place. Disengagement interventions help young people already involved in gangs, to withdraw from them. Suppression operations attempt to use law enforcement strategies to deal with high-profile individual gangsters, and to keep gang activity to a minimum. Recent evidence suggests that effective programmes usually combine prevention, disengagement and suppression, and are uniquely tailored to specific communities and the specific age groups of young people involved.