Into The Abyss:
A Personal Journey into the World of Street Gangs

by Mike Carlie, Ph.D.        
Michael K. Carlie
Continually updated.

~ Table of Contents ~
Home | Foreword | Preface | Orientation

What I Learned | Conclusions
End Note |
| Appendix
Site Map / Contents
| New Research

Up-To-Date Gang-Related News

Part 5:
The Community-Based Youth Agency

I once worked with a community-based youth agency in Indiana that offered assistance to violent youth. There weren't any gangs in town at that time but there were youths who were creating significant problems in certain neighborhoods. The following material updates the concept of the community-based youth agency and has been condensed and excerpted from a document entitled Community-Based Youth Agency Model. (Spergel and Kane, 1990)  My own comments are shown in [brackets].


An essential component of a broad-scale approach to reducing gang activity and youth violence is a local community-based youth agency (CBYA) that provides a continuum of services to gang- and gang-prone youth as well as to other youth, family, and community residents. The agency must have a board containing local residents and representing the expressed needs and interests of its community. A CBYA 

bulletmust closely coordinate its services with criminal justice system units including police, court, probation, detention, parole, and correction institutions as well as with local schools, business and industry. 

bulletmay have to engage in advocacy on behalf of gang youth, both individually and in general, especially in chronic gang  communities where youth have been underserved. This social advocacy should be directed toward the development of a whole range of essential opportunities, especially improved educational training, and job programs that categorically target gang youth.

bulletshould engage in a variety of youth outreach service and grassroots mobilization efforts. It should attempt directly to mediate differences among warring gang groups. At the same time, it should assist local community resident groups and agencies in the area to support the positive efforts of gang and gang-prone youth while deterring their criminal activities, including drug trafficking. In other words a highly complex, proactive, and generalist role is envisioned for the CBYA interested in developing its capacity to deal with the youth gang crime problem. 

The Mission

[What Spergel and Kane propose] is a six-fold mission for those youth agencies intending to serve gang youth:

bulletfamily support,
bullettraining and employment,
bulletsocial control, and
bulletcommunity mobilization and agency coordination.

This mission must target and serve different types of gang youths, problem families, and communities in different ways. This variation is largely related to degrees of poverty and social and personal disorganization, particularly as represented in emerging and chronic gang-problem communities.

This approach assumes that the CBYA will serve a range of children, youth, and families in a given community who represent various social, economic, and racial or ethnic groups. Even in relatively segregated communities, it is expected that the CBYA will serve residents of diverse class and status to meet a broad range of interests and needs. To the fullest extent possible the agency must represent and cater to a complex community. The CBYA, however, which proposes to serve gang and gang-prone youth, must identify them in specific terms and provide them with appropriate and distinctive programs.

Priority services should be provided to those younger youth who are designated at-risk according to specific criteria and to those older youth who have already been adjudicated [found delinquent by a juvenile court] for gang-related crimes. More specifically, gang-prone or high-risk youth admitted to the special youth gang program should be between the ages of 12 to 16 years and meet at least four of the following criteria:

bulletassociate regularly with acknowledged gang youth;
bullethave family members who are or were gang members;
bulletoccasionally wear gang colors, use gang symbols, or flash gang signs;
bulletare performing poorly in school or if out of school are unemployed;
bullethave one or more arrests; or 
bulletuse drugs. 

Goals and Objectives

The key goal of the program is the reduction of the incidence and prevalence of youth gang crimes. This would include a reduction in the number of violent and serious youth gang crimes, particularly homicides, assaults, and drug trafficking as well as a reduction in the number and size of gangs. 

The primary strategies of the special CBYA youth gang program should be intervention and suppression at various levels. Special attention in the formulation of objectives should be given to redirecting the interests and capacities of gang members and gang-prone youth toward improved performance at school, in training, and on the job. Development is required of attitudes and social skills that assist youth in avoiding gang membership or participating in gang- related conflict or criminal activities. 

A key objective should be to help youth understand the meaning and value of social controls as well as to directly implement such controls as appropriate. Close relationships and coordination must be established with the families of gang-prone and youth gang members as well as with schools, police, probation, parole, and other justice system representatives.

Program objectives should vary depending on whether the focus is on older, hardened gang youth or younger "wannabes" and fringe members. Closer supervision and coordination with justice system units, training, and employment settings will be required for older youth. Relatively more home and school contact will be required for younger youth, with special attention to the development of those social and athletic activities that emphasize social control and conflict resolution skills. 

[In relation to earlier remarks concerning community coordination and collaboration:] Community-based youth agencies also have a responsibility to mobilize local community groups and other agencies to develop collective community or citywide anti-gang crime efforts. [A community task force is one example.] These include not only advocacy and development of more effective means to protect the local community from youth gang crime, including drug trafficking, but the development of more resources and opportunities for education, training, and jobs targeted to gang members and gang-prone youth. (Spergel and Kane, 1990, page

[This concludes the excerpts from Spergel's and Kane's report. To learn more about how to create and manage a community-based youth agency, and what such an agency may do, visit the site of the original document: Community-Based Youth Agency Model.]

The last community-based program we will explore is the Adopt an Agency program.


Additional Resources: You can read Helping At-Risk Youth: Lessons from Community-Based Initiatives and Youth Assisting Youth (YAY). YAY is a community-based program that matches youth volunteers, aged 16 to 29,  with "at risk" children aged 6-15. The goal of the organization is to provide positive role models for the at-risk children.

Actor Jim Brown has developed a proven program for helping at-risk (and very high risk) youths turn their lives around. It's called Amer-I-Can and you can learn more about it on the web.

2002 Michael K. Carlie
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means without permission in writing from the author and copyright holder - Michael K. Carlie.