Aug. 17, 1995
Vol. 15, No. 1

current issue
archive / search

    New hope for communities in fight to control gangs

    As gang violence escalates across the nation, a gang intervention and control strategy developed by Irving Spergel, the George Herbert Jones Professor in Social Service Administration, and his colleagues offers new hope to communities in their efforts to stop the spread of gangs and reduce gang violence.

    The Spergel model for reducing gang activity, which consolidates community organizations, employment agencies, schools and law enforcement officials, is being used as a national model for a U.S. Department of Justice five-city, four-state demonstration project starting this year. The Justice Department's Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) is testing the model in Bloomington, Ill.; Mesa and Tucson, Ariz.; Riverside, Calif.; and San Antonio, Texas.

    A research team led by Spergel, one of the nation's leading authorities on gang violence and juvenile delinquency, will be evaluating the impact of the programs. Spergel was awarded an eight-month, $250,000 grant from the Department of Justice to initiate the evaluation.

    The model developed by Spergel is based on extensive research on gangs, an examination of earlier intervention efforts and Spergel's work with the Department of Justice since 1987 developing training manuals and research material on gangs and gang violence. The model has been partially tested over a three-year period in the Little Village section of Chicago and has involved the Chicago Police Department, the Cook County Departments of Adult and Juvenile Probation and a coalition of community agencies.

    "Based on limited previous evaluations of existing programs in other communities, we found that several elements of a community-wide approach appear to be effective in reducing gang violence and intervening in young people's lives in a positive way," Spergel said. "The further collaboration with the Department of Justice will enable us to test the model systematically in various cities on a larger scale."

    Spergel, through funding from the OJJDP, conducted the first comprehensive national survey of responses by organized agencies and community groups to gang problems in the United States from 1987 to 1989. Out of that study, Spergel's research team developed programs that brought together diverse sectors of the community to reduce chronic and emerging gang problems.

    Spergel's intervention program requires coordinated efforts by schools, youth employment agencies, grass-roots organizations, community-based youth agencies, community mobilization groups, police, prosecutors, judges, parole and correction agencies, and former gang members.

    "This project goes beyond traditional programs, because it facilitates communication and coordinates efforts by all the groups who want to reach out to youth who are seriously at risk of joining gangs or who are violent gang members," Spergel said. "It provides opportunities for both adolescents and young adults in gangs to change their lives."

    The researchers will train data collectors and community personnel at the demonstration sites to maintain case studies, implement strategies and measure the outcomes across the five cities. The evaluation portion of the project is expected to be completed in spring 1999. Each demonstration site will also work with the OJJDP to coordinate a National Symposium on Gangs, to be held in 1996, which will examine the extent of the gang problem nationally, evaluate the impact of other community programs and disseminate information on effective gang research.

    -Charles Whitt