Gang activity and related violence threaten public order in a diverse range of communities in the United States today. Congress has long recognized that this problem affects a number of issues of federal concern, and federal legislation has been introduced in the 110th Congress to address some aspects of the issue. Youth gangs have been an endemic feature of American urban life. They are well attested as early as the 18th century and have been a recurrent subject of concern since then. Contemporary views of the problem have been formed against the background of a significant adverse secular trend in gang activity during the last four decades. In particular, the rapid growth of gang membership, geographical dispersion, and criminal involvement during the violent crime epidemic — associated with the emergence of the crack cocaine market during the mid-1980s to the early 1990s — have intensified current concerns. The experience of those years continues to mark both patterns of gang activity and public policy responses toward them. Policy development and implementation in this area are bedeviled by discrepant uses of the term “gang” and the absence of uniform standards of statistical reporting. There are reasons for special care in the use of data on gangs and their activity. Without a standardized definition of what is meant by “gang,” such as the age group or activities engaged in by its members, or standardized reporting among the state, local, tribal, and federal levels of government, it is difficult to target anti-gang initiatives and evaluate their effectiveness. According to a national gang survey, the most recent estimate indicates that there were about 760,000 gang members in 24,000 gangs in the United States in 2004.
This book provides background information on the issue of youth gangs, including data on gangs and gang crime. It reviews existing anti-gang initiatives at the federal, state, and local levels, and describes some of the legislation proposed during the 110th Congress to address the gang problem, as well as some of the issues raised by those bills.