More than 1 million U.S. youths are gang members, more than triple the number estimated by law enforcement, says a new study that the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange says “shatters some long-held beliefs about gangs.” The study in the Journal of Adolescent Health refutes the notions that gang members are overwhelmingly black or Latino males and that once youths join a gang, they cannot leave. Lead author David Pyrooz, a criminologist at Sam Houston State University, said gang members come from all backgrounds. The study found about 40 percent are non-Hispanic white, Pyrooz said, with the remainder disproportionately black and Latino.
He said another misperception suggests that when youths join a gang, they stay in it, when actually the turnover rate in a one-year period is about 36 percent. “The public has been led to believe that gang members are black and Latino males and that once someone joins a gang, they cannot leave a gang, both of which are patently false,” Pyrooz said. The study also found about 30 percent of gang members are female. The National Youth Gang Survey by the U.S. Justice Department puts the number of youths in gangs at only about 302,000. The new study said, “The population of juvenile gang members to date has been grossly under-recognized.”