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Topics in Criminal Justice: Gangs

The U.S. Department of Justice's definition of "gangs" is complex, but the main elements are that they consist of three or more members who "collectively identify themselves by adopting a group identity," and that the group's main purpose is to "engage in criminal further its criminal objectives." As of 2013, the composition of the 33,000 gangs in the United States were 88% street gang members, 9.5% prison gang members, and 2.5 percent outlaw motorcycle gang (OMG) members. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, neighbor-hood gangs (or NBGs) pose the largest threat in most communities due to their larger numbers and wider access to criminal resources. Street gang revenue mostly comes from drug distribution and trafficking, but they often run other operations dealing in prostitution, tax fraud, counterfeiting, and extortion. The largest and thus most well-known and influential gangs are the Bloods, Crips, Sureños/La Eme, and the Latin Kings.

Aside from gang violence, criminal activities, and drug distribution, one of the largest threats gangs pose are their recruitment of adolescents and youth. The FBI's 2013 National Gang Report shows that gang influence begins at a very young age as gangs are not only linked to crimes on college campuses and within high schools, but also secondary and even elementary schools. Due to this threat, it is pivotal that parents, law enforcement, and educators in areas particularly rife with gang activity be trained and educated on why youth join gangs, and methods to prevent gang involvement.

While street gangs pose the largest threat to communities, prison-based and motorcycle gangs also pose criminal and violent threats. In a survey the FBI conducted as part of its 2013 National Gang Report, 56 % of gang experts surveyed indicated that "prison gangs control gang activities outside of prison within their jurisdictions through means of visitation, notes and coded communication, defense attorneys, corrupt prison staff...phones, social media, and direction provided to released inmates by prison gang leaders." Also, despite motorcycke gangs' low membership numbers, in ranking the "top ten worst or most problematic gangs" within their jurisdictions, survey respondents ranked motorcycle gangs before street and prison gangs.

Want to learn more?

If you're interested in doing further research on gangs, gang activities, or more gang statistics, refer to the variety of resources listed below.

Links to Resources & Websites


Books and eBooks Available at Dewey

Need Additional Assistance?

Help is available! Contact Cathy Dwyer, Subject Librarian for Criminal Justice at (518) 442-3698 or - or drop by during Cathy's office hours, held weekly on Mondays from 5-8pm.

Blog Created By: Kristen Thornton-De Stafeno
Image Credit: Kristen Thornton-De Stafeno

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