Is there no place for parental responsibility and supervision in this discussion? We tend, these days, to assume that parents are a vague and non-influential force in a child's life, and that all their socialization and education will come from the school system and government programs. However, I contend that the majority of a child's beliefs and personality come directly from the home life. If the home is a place of abuse, depression, or general negativity, the child will seek out other peers, especially if they are antithetical to the parents; it becomes a method of revenge with no thought for future impact. However, if the parents take an active and positive role in forming the child's social structure and belief system -- religious or simply ethical -- they will have less need to rebel and push back.
The key is recognizing the basic human need for recognition and involvement - having a feeling of being connected and needed somehow by someone. When there are groups and activities available, youth will gravitate to them when they mature to the stage of wanting to establish their own identity, separate from the family connections and involvements that have supported them to that point in their lives. If the groups and activities are socially constructive or not really isn't the issue for too many young people. The primary concern is simply finding someplace where they can belong. As a society, we can work to make positive groups and activities more attractive and available, but the final decision will still be up to the individual teen.
I think programs that keep young people busy and involved are very good at discouraging involvement in gangs. As a general rule, when teenagers are having problems at home they tend to go elsewhere for moral support, encouragement, involvement, and recognition. Family life is very important to produce happy, stable, and secure teens. So, anti-gang programs need to either help stabilize the home environment for these kids or else provide them with an acceptable substitute.
Religious and law enforcement organizations are wonderful for reaching out and gathering in troubled kids. Other organizations, like the YMCA, Job Corps, and the Junior Achievement give kids something to do, make them feel needed and important, give them a sense of identity, and keep them off the streets. Some colleges and universities even have programs that enable kids to finish high school while getting college credits.
I'd suggest that gangs are more about belonging than about survival. Therefore, we need to have things for youth to belong to that give them a sense of pride, belonging, and importance. Others have mentioned some of these -- youth programs, sports teams, perhaps churches. I think that we also need to take steps (whatever those may be) to strengthen families. After all, our families are the first group to which we belong and policies that would keep strong families together would be a major step towards making youth feel like they belong.
Great suggestions so far. Another point we need to consider is the role of religious organizations. If religious organization can help create community this can help. So, it might be worthwhile to empower religious groups, such as churches, mosques, synagogues, and others to engage the youth. This can be an extremely positive force. Moreover, in many communities, where gangs exists, religious organizations exist as well.
I agree with the above, but in a community where a gang atmosphere is already thick and well established, they are lofty goals, at best. I think in addition to alternatives, gang activity (of any kind) needs to be confronted at the smallest level (dress codes, minute "tagging" of binders and papers, certain style choices and even verbal cues) and result in immediate and serious consequences.
Part of what makes gang unity so strong is the rebellion many get away with inside the classroom and hallways that many teachers and administrators are either to naive to notice, or too intimidated to confront. Uninvolved students and involved students alike are more than aware of the gang activity (even representation) that is going on within a school, and when it goes unconfronted, it speaks the message that those students have more power than teachers. This is in large part what creates such an atmosphere of intimidation and fear in many public schools (and not just with gangs, but with threatening behavior, bullying, and rebellion of any kind).
I agree with both of the posters suggests thus far. We, as a society or community, need to provide support to those who possess the attributes of people typical to join a gang. Keeping youth off of the streets is very important as well. If youth have something to do, a place to focus and expend their time and energy, they will be less likely to join a gang.
That being said, I do not believe that there is one thing a society or community can do to eliminate gangs all together. They have, unfortunately, survived for this long and do not seem to be going anywhere.
Funding after school programs, sports clubs, supervised and positive places for students to go and early interventions seem to be the keys to preventing gang affiliation and activities. Increasing funding for criminal justice and street patrols can make communities safer as well, and it is important that neighborhoods be places that do need breed and replicate criminal activity.