Getting kids to avoid or withdraw from gangs is a difficult task. After spending $13.3 million and 10 years on demonstration projects in five cities, the U.S. Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention found that almost nothing had a significant impact, reports Youth Today. There were plenty of lessons, some of which are being applied to new efforts. Among the problems: not enough use of youth outreach workers, difficulties of community-based organizations acting as “lead” agencies in projects, and failure to adhere to the program model. This particular model tested the theory of University of Chicago sociologist Irving Spergel that gang-related violence could be reduced if community agencies and groups engaged in coordinated efforts to assess, suppress, intervene, and offer alternative opportunities to gang members.
In the mid-1990s, after years of rising violent crime – much of it attributed to gangs – OJJDP launched a demonstration of the model, calling it the Comprehensive Community-Wide Approach to Gang Prevention, Intervention and Suppression Program. The program activities included arrests, tattoo removal, case management, job training, counseling, and recreation. Phelan Wyrick, OJJDP's gang program coordinator, describes the model this way: “We know who you are. We know you're out there. On the one hand, if you step over a line, we've got our eye on you and we will hold you accountable. But on the other hand, we want to offer you some alternatives and some choices.” OJJDP funded five demonstration sites from 1995 to 1999: Bloomington-Normal, Il.; Mesa, Az.; Riverside, Ca.; San Antonio; and Tucson. Each site served about 100 to 250 at-risk youth, mostly Latino or African-American males from ages 14 to 17. “It's a mixed bag,” Wyrick says. “Where the programs were implemented better, you got better results, and where they were poorly implemented, you didn't get good results.”