Gang Youth, Risk Behaviors, and Negative Health Outcomes

  • Bill SandersEmail author
  • Avelardo Valdez
  • Geoffrey P. Hunt
  • Karen Joe Laidler
  • Molly Moloney
  • Alice Cepeda


Gang youth have been a perennial issue with criminologists for nearly a century. Much evidence suggests that something about participation within a gang leads youth to commit more crime when compared to non-gang youth. Gang youth are at an increased risk of arrest and incarceration for serious offences in comparison to other delinquent youth. Gang youth also are more likely to report participation in what are described as ‘health risk behaviors’, which include substance use, violence, and unsafe sexual practices. Consequently, gang youth are at an elevated risk of exposure to the negative health outcomes related to such behaviors, including addiction, overdose, infection, injury, disability, and death. This chapter offers data gathered in three cities over a 20-year period to provide a descriptive epidemiology of substance use, violence and unsafe sexual practices among gang-identified youth. We conclude with a discussion on how public health approaches towards other high-risk categories of youth could compliment current criminal justice efforts aimed at curbing the influence or impact of youth gangs.


Risky Sexual Behavior Sexual Victimization Gang Member Sexual Initiation Unsafe Sexual Practice 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


  1. Advancement Project. (2007). A call to action: A case for a comprehensive solution to LA’s gang violence epidemic. Retrieved from
  2. Bendixen, M., Endresen, I. M., & Olweus, D. (2006). Joining and leaving gangs: Selection and facilitation effects on self-reported antisocial behaviour in early adolescence. European Journal of Criminology, 3, 85–114.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Brooks, R. A., Lee, S.-J., Stover, G. N., & Barkley, T. W., Jr. (2009). Condom attitudes, perceived vulnerability, and sexual risk behaviors of young Latino male urban street gang members: Implications for HIV prevention. AIDS Education and Prevention, Supplement B, 21(5), 80–87.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Cepeda, A., & Valdez, A. (2003). Risk behaviors among young Mexican American gang-associated females: Sexual relations, partying, substance use, and crime. Journal of Adolescent Research, 18, 90–107.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Durant, R. H., Altman, D., Wolfson, M., Barkin, S., Kreiter, S., & Krowchuk, D. (2000). Exposure to violence and victimization, depression, substance use, and the use of violence by young adolescents. Journal of Pediatrics, 137, 707–713.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Egley, A., Jr., & O’Donnell, C. E. (2008). Highlights of the 2006 national youth gang survey. Washington, DC: Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.Google Scholar
  7. Egley, A., Jr., Howell, J. C., & Moore, J. P. (2010). Highlights of the 2008 national youth gang survey. Washington, DC: Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.Google Scholar
  8. Elder, G. H. (1998). The life course and human development. In R. M. Lerner (Ed.), Handbook of child psychology (pp. 939–991). New York: Wiley.Google Scholar
  9. Esbensen, F.-A., Osgood, D. W., Taylor, T. J., Peterson, D., & Freng, A. (2001). How great is G.R.E.A.T.? Results from a longitudinal quasi-experimental design. Criminology & Public Policy, 1, 87–118.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Gatti, U., Tremblay, R. E., Vitaro, F., & McDuff, P. (2005). Youth gangs, delinquency and drug use: A test of the selection, facilitation, and enhancement hypotheses. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 46, 1178–1190.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Gordon, R. A., Lahey, B. B., Kawai, E., Loeber, R., Stouthamer-Loeber, M., & Farrington, D. P. (2004). Antisocial behaviors and youth gang membership: Selection and socialization. Criminology, 42, 55–87.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Greene, J., & Pranis, K. (2007). Gang wars: The failure of enforcement tactics and the need for effective public safety strategies. Justice Policy Institute Report, Justice Policy Institute.Google Scholar
  13. Hall, G. P., Thornberry, T. P., & Lizotte, A. J. (2006). The gang facilitation effect and neighborhood risk: Do gangs have a stronger influence on delinquency in disadvantaged areas? In J. F. Short Jr. & L. A. Hughes (Eds.), Studying youth gangs (pp. 47–62). Lanham: Altamira Press.Google Scholar
  14. Hamrin, V., Jonker, B., & Scahill, L. (2004). Acute stress disorder symptoms in gunshot-injured youth. Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Nursing, 17, 161–172.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Harper, G. W., Davidson, J., & Hosek, S. G. (2008). Influence of gang membership on negative affects, substance use, and antisocial behavior among homeless African American male youth. American Journal of Men’s Health, 2, 229–243.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Howell, J. C. (1998). Youth gangs: An overview. Washington, DC: US Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.Google Scholar
  17. Huebner, B. M., Varano, S. P., & Bynum, T. S. (2007). Gangs, guns and drugs: Recidivism among serious, young offenders. Criminology & Public Policy, 6, 187–222.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Hunt, G. P., Jo-Laidler, K., & Evans, K. (2002). The meaning and gendered culture of getting high: Gang girls and drug use issues. Contemporary Drug Problems, 29, 375–415.Google Scholar
  19. Hunt, G., MacKenzie, K., & Joe-Laidler, K. (2005). Alcohol and masculinity: The case of ethnic youth gangs. In T. M. Wilson (Ed.), Drinking cultures: Alcohol and identity (pp. 225–254). Oxford: Berg.Google Scholar
  20. Joe, K. A., & Hunt, G. (1997). Violence and social organization in female gangs. Social Justice, 24, 148–169.Google Scholar
  21. Juarez, P. D. (1992). The public health model and violence prevention. In R. C. Cervantes (Ed.), Substance abuse and gang violence (pp. 43–59). London: Sage.Google Scholar
  22. Klein, M. W., & Maxson, C. L. (2006). Street gang patterns and policies. New York: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Krisberg, B. (2005). Juvenile justice: Redeeming our children. Thousand Oaks: Sage.Google Scholar
  24. Li, X., Stanton, B., Pack, R., Harris, C., Cottrell, L., & Burns, J. (2002). Risk and protective factors associated with gang involvement among urban African American adolescents. Youth & Society, 34, 172–194.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. MacDonald, J., Ridgeway, G., Gover A. R., & Jennings, W. G. (2007). Assessing the effects of gang membership on victimization using doubly robust propensity score modeling. Retrieved from
  26. MacKenzie, K., Hunt, G., & Joe-Laidler, K. (2005). Youth gangs and drugs: The case of marijuana. Journal of Ethnicity in Substance Abuse, 4, 99–134.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Moloney, M., MacKenzie, K., Hunt, G., & Joe-Laidler, K. (2009). The path and promise of fatherhood for gang members. British Journal of Criminology, 49(305), 325.Google Scholar
  28. Moloney, M., Hunt, G., & Joe-Laidler, K. (2010). Young mother (in the) hood: Gang girls’ negotiation of new identities. Journal of Youth Studies, 11, 1–19.Google Scholar
  29. Peterson, D., Taylor, T. J., & Esbensen, F. A. (2004). Gang membership and violent victimization. Justice Quarterly, 21, 793–815.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Rindfuss, R. R., Swicegood, C. G., & Rosenfeld, R. A. (1987). Disorder in the life course: How common and does it matter? American Sociological Review, 52, 785–801.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Salazar, L. F., Crosby, R. A., DiClemente, R. J., Wingood, G. M., Rose, E., Sales, J. M., & Caliendo, A. M. (2007). Personal, relational, and peer-level risk factors for laboratory confirmed STD prevalence among low-income African American adolescent families. Sexually Transmitted Diseases, 334, 761–766.Google Scholar
  32. Sanders, B., & Lankenau, S. E. (2006). A public health model for studying youth gangs. In J. Short Jr. & L. A. Hughes (Eds.), Studying youth gangs (pp. 117–128). Lanham: Altamira Press.Google Scholar
  33. Sanders, B., Lankenau, S. E., & Jackson Bloom, J. (2008). A study of risk behaviors among gang youth in Los Angeles. Retrieved from
  34. Sanders, B., Lankenau, S. E., & Jackson Bloom, J. (2009). Risky sexual behaviors among gang youth in Los Angeles. Journal of Equity in Health, 2, 61–71.Google Scholar
  35. Sanders, B., Lankenau, S. E., & Jackson Bloom, J. (2010). Putting in work: Qualitative research on gang youth in Los Angeles. Substance Use and Misuse, 45, 736–753.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Schalet, A., Hunt, G., & Jo-Laidler, K. (2003). Respectability and autonomy: The articulation and meaning of sexuality among the girls in the gang. Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, 32, 108–143.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Sharp, C., Aldridge, J., & Medina, J. (2006). Delinquent youth groups and offending behaviour: Findings from the 2004 Offending, Crime and Justice survey (Home Office Online Report 12/6). London: Home Office.Google Scholar
  38. Uman, G. C., Urman, H. N., Malloy, C. L., Martinez, B., & DeMorst, L. (2006). Pilot study on HIV among gang members. Los Angeles: City of Los Angeles AIDS Coordinator’s Office.Google Scholar
  39. Valdez, A., & Kaplan, C. D. (1999). Reducing selection bias in the use of focus groups to investigate hidden populations: The case of Mexican American gang members from South Texas. Drugs and Society, 14, 209–224.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Valdez, A., & Kaplan, C. (2007). Conditions that increase drug market involvement: The invitational edge and the case of Mexicans in South Texas. Journal of Drug Issues, 37, 893–917.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Valdez, A., Kaplan, C. D., & Codina, E. (2000). Psychopathy among Mexican American gang members: A comparative study. International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology, 44, 46–58.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Valdez, A., Kaplan, C. D., & Cepeda, A. (2006). The drugs-violence nexus among Mexican-American gang members. Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, 38, 109–121.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Valdez, A., Cepeda, A., & Kaplan, C. (2009). Homicidal events among Mexican American street gangs: A situational analysis. Homicide Studies, 13, 288–306.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Voisin, D. R., Salazar, L. F., Crosby, R., DiClemente, R. J., Yarber, W. L., & Staples-Horne, M. (2004). The association between gang involvement and sexual behaviours among detained adolescent males. Sexually Transmitted Infections, 80, 440–442.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Wingood, G. M., DiClemente, R. J., Crosby, R., Harrington, K., Davies, S. L., & Hook, E. W., III. (2002). Gang involvement and the health of African American female adolescents. Pediatrics, 110, 57–61.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. World Health Assembly. (1996). WHA49.25. Prevention of violence: A public health priority. Handbook resource, Vol. III (3rd ed.). Geneva: World Health Organization.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Bill Sanders
    • 1
    Email author
  • Avelardo Valdez
    • 2
  • Geoffrey P. Hunt
    • 3
  • Karen Joe Laidler
    • 4
  • Molly Moloney
    • 5
  • Alice Cepeda
    • 2
  1. 1.School of Criminal Justice and CriminalisticsCalifornia State UniversityLos AngelesUSA
  2. 2.School of Social WorkUniversity of Southern CaliforniaLos AngelesUSA
  3. 3.Centre for Alcohol and Drugs ResearchUniversity of AarhusAarhusDenmark
  4. 4.Centre for CriminologyUniversity of Hong KongPokfulamHong Kong
  5. 5.Institute for Scientific AnalysisAlamedaUSA

Personalised recommendations