Youth Gangs and Violence - Youth Gangs and Violence...

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Youth Gangs and Violence Although once thought to be an inner-city problem, gang violence has spread to communities throughout the United States. At last count, there were more than 24,500 different youth gangs around the country, and more than 772,500 teens and young adults were members of gangs. [ 1 ] Teens join gangs for a variety of reasons. Some are seeking excitement; others are looking for prestige, protection, a chance to make money, or a sense of belonging. [ 2 ] Few teens are forced to join gangs; in most cases, teens can refuse to join without fear of retaliation. [ 3 ] Membership on the Rise There has been a dramatic increase in gang activity in the United States since the 1970's. In the 1970's, gangs were active in less than half the states, but now every state reports youth gang activity. [ 4 ] And, while many people think of gangs as just an inner-city problem, that is clearly no longer the case. In the past few decades we have seen a dramatic increase in the growth of gang problems in smaller cities, towns, and rural areas. [ 5 ] Since 1996, the overall number of gangs and gang members in the United States has decreased. However, in cities with a population over 25,000, gang involvement still remains near peak levels. [ 6 ] Age of Members Most youth gang members are between the ages of 12 and 24, and the average age is about 17 to 18 years. Around half of youth gang members are 18 or older, and they are much more likely to be involved in serious and violent crimes than younger gang members. Only about 1-in-4 youth gang members are ages 15 to 17. [ 7 ] For most teens, gang membership is a brief phase. Three studies that tracked teens over
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