Methods: This study uses data collected from the California Healthy Kids Survey. This is the only representative database on gangs in schools for any state. It is also representative of every region within California. The sample consisted of 606,815 students and is very close to a census of all 7th, 9th, and 11th graders in traditional public schools in California. Multivariate analyses using logistic regression were employed. A four-block enter method procedure was used to determine the predictability of school factors on gang membership.
Results: Several school factors were significantly associated being a gang member. For instance, school violence perpetration increases the odds of gang membership by 66 percent. Discrimination motivated victimization at school also increases in the odds by 12 percent. School substance use increases the odds by 17 percent. Furthermore, the more frequent the truancy behavior the more likely (a 40 percent increase in the odds) the student will be a gang member. Other school factors were found to decrease the probability of gang membership. School violence victimization decreases the odds of gang membership by 8.4 percent. This suggests when victimization is personal the student will likely avoid further violent experiences by safely staying away from gangs. Additionally, as perception of school safety increases there is a 14.3 percent decrease in the odds of gang membership. Also, as the level of school support strengthens the likelihood of gang membership declines by 8.2 percent. And as a student's grade point average increases, there is a 7.4 decrease in the odds of being a gang member. An unexpected result was found with student meaningful participation in school, which surprisingly increases the chances of gang membership. This could relate to participation in gang activity at school and future studies should explore this possibility.
Conclusions: This research supports the belief that the school context can make a significant impact on gang membership rates. Further integration of gang and school safety literature is warranted. Findings support interventions within the school aimed at reducing negative peer influences and increasing safety and support. Such interventions hold promise to reduce both school violence and gang membership rates. This study highlights the significant role school variables play on gang membership. Bolstering protective factors and reducing school risk factors should be further included in gang theory and prevention strategies.