Citizens for Juvenile Justice
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Youth in Gangs: Beyond the Headlines

Juvenile Justice Forum
November 3, 2010

Gangs forumThe Forum, which was free and open to the public, attracted a diverse, standing-room-only crowd and presented a more nuanced picture of gangs than the media generally provides.

The panel of speakers included a juvenile justice researcher (David Hureau, Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government); leaders of programs that work with gang-involved youth in Lynn (Barbara Kaban, Deputy Director of the Children’s Law Center of Massachusetts and Claire Sullivan, Director of Straight Ahead Ministries); and four young men who were gang-involved– and now are in, or headed for, college.

David Hureau provided an overview of the history of and research on gangs, dispelling some of the commonly held beliefs about them.  Tied to their communities and social forces, gangs are a source of organization in communities. They are not all about drugs, but they are about conflict with other groups. Despite media hype, the fact is that serious violence is down 46% in Boston since 2006. On the other hand, a significant fraction of shootings in the city have involved gang members, much of it involving retaliation.

The young men who had been gang-involved talked about the camaraderie and the sense of belonging that attracted them to gangs– and the family problems and absentee parents that failed to provide those things. They identified their growing maturity and relationships with dedicated adults who refused to give up on them as the major factors that enabled them to leave the gang life behind.