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Youth gangs have received considerable attention for many decades. Undoubtedly, their disproportionate involvement in violence is one main reason for this attention. While gang members spend most of their lives engaging in the same types of behaviors as other youth (sleeping, eating, playing video games, going to school), they are also much more likely than non-gang members to be involved in violence and other criminal activity. Indeed, scholars have often highlighted the functional nature of violence as it pertains to gangs.

Gangs come in a variety of forms: prison gangs, outlaw motorcycle gangs, extremist groups, and drug trafficking organizations, among others. The current essay summarizes what is known about youth gangs. This is done for two primary reasons. First, gangs differ across types. Second, more research has been conducted on youth gangs than any other gang type. So, in order to keep the topic both manageable and empirically sound, what we know about youth gangs is highlighted here.


This material was originally published in Violent Offenders: Understanding and Assessment edited by Christina A. Pietz and Curtis A. Mattson, and has been reproduced by permission of Oxford University Press, For permission to reuse this material, please visit

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Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.