Gang Participation in a National Sample of Secondary School Students

Gary D. Gottfredson, Gottfredson Associates, Inc.

A national probability sample of 16,014 secondary students in 311 schools were asked if they had "belong[ed[ to a gang that has a name and engages in fighting, stealing, or selling drugs" in the last 12 months. Gang participants are far more likely to be threatened or victimized in school, and they are more often afraid of being hurt or bothered in school and away from the school than are other students. Statistical models of the likelihood of gang participation imply that being male, not being non-Hispanic White or Asian; having low commitment to education, low belief in conventional rules, or delinquent peers; and feeling unsafe or fearful in school are associated with gang involvement. Gang participants are more involved with drugs than are other students; 18% of male gang participants and 1% of nonparticipants report using heroin (23% and .6% of girls) in the last 12 months. Gang participants are much more likely than other students to have carried a hidden weapon other than a pocket knife. Carrying a concealed weapon is strongly associated not only with gang participation but also with use of crack, heroin, cocaine, and other drugs. Rates of gang participation are high in unsafe schools.

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Updated 05/20/2006