Correlates of Gang Involvement Among Detained African American Adolescent Females
Over 24,500 youth gangs exist in the United States (U.S.), resulting in more than 772,500 gang involved adolescents and young adults, with one in four members between the ages of 15-17. Previous research has established positive relationships between gang membership and risky sexual behaviors, such as multiple concurrent sexual partnerships, having sex while high on drugs, and having sex with a partner who was high on drugs. For adolescent females, gang membership has also been associated with a higher incidence of Trichomonas and Gohorrhea, and reporting an unplanned pregnancy. Despite the reality that gang involved females bear a disproportionate burden, no studies have examined the correlates of gang involvement among adolescent females. Thus, the primary aim of this study was to examine the factors associated with gang involvement among a sample of high risk adolescent African American females.
Data were collected from a convenience sample of detained African American adolescents females, between the ages of 13-17, currently incarcerated in a short-term detention facility in Atlanta, Georgia (N=188). After obtaining written informed assent and parental permission, participants answered survey questions using A-CASI procedures that assessed age, socioeconomic status, parental communication, parental monitoring, neighborhood conditions, and running away from home. All multiple regression models controlled for potential effects of age and socioeconomic status.
Major findings indicated that 27.1% (N=51) of the sample indicated current or prior gang involvement. Several factors emerged as significant correlates of gang involvement. Participants who indicated current or previous gang involvement reported significantly lower levels of parental monitoring (p<.001) and parental communication (p=.001). In addition, running away from home or been thrown out of the house in the previous 12-months (p=.025) were associated with a history of gang involvement. Finally, living in a neighborhood where there were more abandoned homes, barred doors and broken windows (p=.029) were also associated with gang involvement.
Conclusions and Implications:
This is the first quantitative study to examine the correlates of gang involvement among a high risk sample of African American adolescent females. Our findings suggest that when important relational, social control and monitoring factors are absent in the lives of high risk African American females, that they may be more inclined to report gang involvement. In addition, gang membership for some adolescent girls may serve as refuge especially if they are at risk for becoming homeless or living in impoverished communities. These findings can be used by social work practitioners and service providers for targeting adolescent girls who fit these profiles for targeted prevention and intervention initiatives.