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Preventive interventions to reduce youth gang violence in low- and middle-income countries
- Authors: Angela Higginson, Kathryn Ham Benier, Yulia Shenderovich, Laura Bedford, Lorraine Mazerolle, Joseph Murray
- Published date: 2015-11-02
- Coordinating group(s): Crime and Justice, International Development
- Type of document: Title, Protocol, Review, Plain language summary
- Category Image:
- PLS Title: There are no rigorous studies of preventive interventions to reduce youth involvement in gangs in low- and middle-income countries
- PLS Logo:
- PLS Description: Youth gang crime poses a serious problem for low and middle-income countries costing billions of dollars in harm, loss of life and social disruption. Preventive interventions are intended to stop crime before it occurs, either by preventing youth from joining gangs or by reducing recidivism by rehabilitating gang members outside of the criminal justice system. This review examines the effectiveness of these preventive interventions in achieving their aims, as well as identifying factors behind successful implementation in low and middle-income countries.
- Title: Preventive interventions to reduce youth gang violence in low- and middle-income countries
About this systematic review
This Campbell systematic review examines why the implementation of preventive interventions to reduce youth involvement in gangs and gang crime may fail or succeed low and middle-income countries. The review summarises findings from four studies conducted in Latin America and the Caribbean. These include findings from field observations and interviews with 63 former gang members in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, 940 respondents in three Jamaican communities, 24 participants in Nicaragua and 25 participants in Peru.
What are the main results?
It is not possible to make any conclusions regarding the effectiveness of preventive interventions.
Four factors may be important for intervention design and implementation:
- Having a range of programme components that appeal to youth such as arts and sports.
- Active engagement of youths and gang leaders in forming and implementing the programme.
- Ensuring continuity of social ties outside the gang which are fragile and may not be preserved after short-term interventions.
- Ongoing violence and gang involvement limits successful implementation so needs to be addressed.
Youth gangs are frequently associated with high levels of crime and violence in low- and middle-income countries – creating fear, reducing social cohesion, costing billions of dollars in harm and many thousands of lives diverted to criminality. However, youth gangs are also seen to fill a void, as a means of overcoming extreme disadvantage and marginalization. Preventive interventions focus on capacity building and social prevention, and are designed to work proactively to stop crime before it occurs, either by preventing youth from joining gangs or by reducing recidivism by rehabilitating gang members outside of the criminal justice system. By addressing the causes of youth gang membership, these interventions seek to reduce or prevent gang violence.
There were two key objectives to this review. 1. To review the evidence on the effectiveness of interventions designed to prevent youth involvement in gangs and gang crime in low- and middle-income countries. This objective has two parts: a. to summarize the overall effectiveness of interventions, and b. to examine variability in effectiveness across different interventions and populations. 2. To identify the reasons why the implementation of preventive interventions to reduce youth involvement in gangs and gang crime may fail or succeed in low- and middle-income countries.
The search for eligible studies was conducted in August and September 2013, as part of a broader project that systematically reviewed literature on conduct problems and crime in low- and middle-income countries (LMIC). The search strategy included published and unpublished literature with no date constraints. The search was conducted across 17 academic databases, 8 individual journals, and 10 grey literature repositories. There were no language restrictions on the eligibility of documents, and the search was conducted in seven languages: English, French, Chinese, Arabic, Russian, Spanish and Portuguese. The geographic location of studies was limited to low- and middle-income countries, defined as such by the World Bank at least 50 per cent of the time since 1987, when the recordings start.
Studies were eligible for the review of effectiveness if they:
(1) reported on youth gangs; (2) included participants between 10 and 29 years old; (3) were located in a LMIC; (3) assessed a preventive intervention; and (4) used an eligible quantitative study design. Studies were eligible for the review of reasons for implementation success or failure if they: (1) reported on youth gangs; (2) included participants between 10 and 29 years old; (3) were located in a LMIC; (4) assessed a preventive intervention; (5) evaluated the reasons for success or failure; (6) reported on the sampling strategy; (7) reported on data collection; and (8) reported on the type of analysis.
Data collection and analysis
A team of reviewers assessed each title and abstract for preliminary eligibility, which was confirmed during full-text screening. No studies were eligible for the review of effectiveness. For the review of reasons for implementation success or failure, we recorded any evidence of barriers or facilitators of implementation that were identified by the study authors. None of the four studies that were eligible for the thematic synthesis were graded as having low study quality. The review contains a description of each intervention, a summary of the authors’ findings and conclusions about barriers and facilitators of implementation success, and a thematic synthesis of overarching themes identified across the studies.
No studies were identified for the review of effectiveness. Four studies were eligible for the review of reasons for implementation success or failure. The synthesis of reasons for implementation success or failure in the four studies identified five factors that may be important for intervention design and implementation. The limited evidence from the thematic synthesis indicates that preventive gang interventions may be more likely to be successfully implemented when they include:
- a range of program components that appeal to youth,
- programs that offer continuity of social ties outside of the gang,
- a recognition that ongoing violence and gang involvement can severely limit successful implementation, and
- active engagement of youth, where their agency is embraced and leadership is offered.
There is a serious lack of rigorous evaluations of preventive gang interventions in low- and middle-income countries from which to draw conclusions about best-practice. Yet there are a large number of preventive gang programs currently in the field, and many studies that assert their effectiveness. We urge the research and practitioner communities to develop a program of rigorous evaluation, both quantitative and qualitative, in order to establish a benchmark for best practice and to systematically capture important learnings from a range of low- and middle-income country contexts.