Gang Membership and Teenage Offending

David J Smith, Paul Bradshaw     
Edinburgh Study of Transitions and Crime

Young people aged between 13 and 17 who belong to a gang are more likely to commit delinquent acts and to participate in substance misuse, according to new research in Edinburgh into gang membership and teenage offending.

Over 4,000 youngsters who transferred to secondary schools in Edinburgh in the autumn of 1998 have been tracked and were asked to complete a questionnaire every year.

Around one-fifth of the young people said they belonged to a gang at the age of 13, with this figure falling to one in 20 by age 17.  Although a similar proportion of girls were involved in gang activity at 13, this figure rapidly decreased with age.

By 17, those still involved were members of fairly large gangs, half of which consisted of 20 or more members.

The study revealed that becoming a member of a gang was rather more common for those children from less well-off families and for those not living with two parents. A strikingly higher level of gang membership was found among young people living in deprived neighbourhoods.

Much youth offending is found to be a group activity. Findings show that teenage offending is closely related to gang participation, with the same individuals more likely to offend while a gang member than during other periods.

It is possible, however, that some youngsters choose to join a gang once they are already involved in minor or more serious offences.

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