New Dramatic Intervention Reduces Gang-Related Behavior in Youths

Gang-related violence accounts for a large percentage of crime within the United States. Murder, aggravated assault, and rape are some of the criminal acts in which young people affiliated with gangs engage. Communities are severely impacted by these aggressive actions and work tirelessly to devise new and effective intervention programs to address these serious problems. In North Carolina, a gang task force created Elements, a program designed to prevent gang violence. “A Second Chance” is one segment of the overall program, which exposes children to a real-life scenario of a gang-related death.

K. Michael Hughes, of the York Hospital/WellSpan Heath Trauma Services in York, Pennsylvania, wanted to see how the experience of witnessing the consequences of such an act would affect gang-affiliated teens. He followed 49 teens as they went through A Second Chance. The participants watched as a gang member was administered to in the emergency room after receiving a gunshot wound. The setting was designed to be as true to life as possible, including using real medical equipment, blood-colored items, and a body bag. The participants then saw how the parents of the gang member reacted when told of their child’s death.

At the conclusion of the experiment, the teens were debriefed and asked to report how significant they thought the program was. Nearly all of the participants, 90%, said they thought A Second Chance was meaningful. Over the next 180 days, Hughes discovered that almost 80% of the participants had improved their grades, and school attendance had improved dramatically. Over half of the teens enrolled in the program had criminal charges at the time. Over the next 6 months, almost 90% of those teens incurred no new charges. Additionally, the majority of the teens who were on probation prior to the intervention had no new violations during follow-up. The teens reported that they were positively affected by the experience and also commented that they had rarely considered their family’s reactions, pain, or grief prior to witnessing the dramatization in A Second Chance. Because paternal influence is lacking in the families of most gang members, Hughes stresses the importance of focusing on developing positive male leadership roles and strengthening family bonds during prevention programs. He added, “True-to-life mock demonstrations of gang violence scenarios, especially as a component of a structured multifaceted gang prevention program, are effective in raising youth awareness to the consequences of gang-related activities and personal gang involvement.”

Hughes, K. M., Grinar, D., Guarino, M., Drabik-Medeiros, B., Williams, K. A Second’s Chance: Gang Violence Task Force Prevention Program. The American Surgeon 78.1 (2012): 89-93. Print.

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The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Jane


    February 25th, 2012 at 6:09 AM

    Gangs are such a blight on so many communities it would be wonderful if it was found that programs like a second chance really do make a difference in the levels of meaningfulness that these gangs have in certain communities. Gangs have caused so much trouble for so many and I know that there are educators and families who have worked tirelessly to end the control that they get over some teens and adults. I don’t really have a problem with gangs where I live but I know that there are other places that have really struggles and it would be nice to see this come under control.

  • sylvia t

    sylvia t

    February 25th, 2012 at 8:57 AM

    There is such a sense of desperation in some youth to have a family that they are willing to even be a part of a gang just to have that feeling that they are a part of something. So this might change the mindset of the kids but the important thing is that we have to get more parents willing to be a presence in these kids lives. Why are they seeking family outside of the home in the first place? It is because they are lacking something at home that the gang gives them. I would be mortified to think that my own child had to go beyond the house to find people that they thought loved and supported him. But I guess some families just don’t care, as long as they are not having to do anything.

  • Gregg


    February 26th, 2012 at 4:22 AM

    I would love to know if there is any evidence that this kind of change can remain long term and keep kids out of this kind of environment for more than a few months at a time. I know that a lot of people can change their stripes for a few weeks or a few months, but does it stick? Will it last?

  • Ollie


    February 26th, 2012 at 10:10 AM

    Having lost a cousin to gang violence I can tell you that things are not always what they seem. He came from a loving family, just got caught up with the wrong crowd. Kids are easily influenced and as a teenager he was too. He got caught up in this idea and stereotype of what the angry black make should be and he tried to become that too. Sadly for he and his family he lost his life over it.

  • Inez


    February 27th, 2012 at 5:14 AM

    Talking to them about this stuff while they are young, doing it early and often is such a crucial element of curbing this sort of behavior.

  • Janey


    February 27th, 2012 at 4:13 PM

    How much do you think it would cost to get something like this implemented in a small town that desprately needs help with this kind of thing? Does anyone know of any resources offering grant money or something like that to get a program up and moving?

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