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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