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Gangs in the Spotlight

Gangs are defined in many ways, and most definitions have similar components. One common definition of a gang is a group of three or more individuals who engage in criminal activity and identify themselves with a common name or sign.  According to respondents to a nationwide mail survey of police agencies conducted in 1995, “53 percent of police respondents said serious gangs had migrated into their community, and 43 percent reported that gangs in their city had expanded to other jurisdictions, including suburban communities” (Responding to Gangs, Evaluation and Research, National Institute of Justice, 2002). In another survey of police departments conducted in 2000, 95 percent of respondents “identified [gang] activity within one or more high schools in their jurisdictions,” and 91 percent “reported gang activity within one or more intermediate schools in their jurisdictions” (Highlights of the 2000 National Youth Gang Survey, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, 2002). 

Gangs and Incarceration

Incarceration does little to disrupt the violent activities of gang-affiliated inmates. The Federal Bureau of Prisons report, The Influence of Prison Gang Affiliation on Violence and Other Prison Misconduct, 2001, indicates that gang affiliation increases the likelihood of prison violence and other forms of misconduct. The trouble does not end when gang members are released from prison. According to the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Fact Sheet, Highlights of the 2001 National Youth Gang Survey, “sixty-three percent of gang-problem jurisdictions reported the return of gang members from confinement to their jurisdiction in 2001. More than two-thirds (69 percent) of these jurisdictions reported that gang members returning from confinement considerably affected their jurisdictions’ gang problem in 2001. A large proportion of these jurisdictions reported that returning members noticeably contributed to an increase in violent crime (63 percent of respondents) and drug trafficking (68 percent) by local gangs.” In response to gang violence, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) developed a National Gang Strategy in 1993. The strategy was designed to incorporate the investigative and prosecutorial practices that have proven successful in the Organized Crime/Drug Program National Strategy. Encouraging coordination and information sharing between federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies, the FBI is able to identify violent gang enterprises that pose a significant threat and to pursue these criminals with coordinated investigations that support successful prosecutions. These FBI pursuits are an essential component of the U.S. Department of Justice’s overall Anti-Violence Crime Initiative (Federal Bureau of Investigation Violent Crimes and Major Offenders Section, 2002). 

Gangs and the Anti-Violence Crime Initiative

As a result of the Anti-Violence Crime Initiative, corrections, parole and probation, and law enforcement are developing strategies to work together and share information. “Police and corrections staff developed procedures to exchange information about offenders who are of particular interest to each of them. For example, police gang units may supply state prison officials with information about the gang affiliations and activities of offenders from their jurisdiction who are sent to prison. In exchange, prison officials may alert local police when gang-involved offenders are about to be released from prison, and describe their gang activities while confined” (Police-Corrections Partnerships, National Institute of Justice, 1999).  The effectiveness of multiagency coordination and integration between police, probation, parole, grassroots organizations, and corrections in controlling and redirecting serious and violent gang members has offered positive results, indicating that serious and violent gang crime can be controlled, if not reduced (Police-Corrections Partnerships, National Institute of Justice, 1999).

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