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Youth Gang Members: Psychiatric Disorders and Substance Use


  • Toi Blakley Harris

    () (Menninger Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences; Department of Pediatrics, Baylor College of Medicine, 1 Baylor Plaza BCM 350, Houston, TX 77030, USA)

  • Sara Elkins

    () (Department of Pediatrics, Psychology Section, Baylor College of Medicine; Texas Children’s Hospital, 6701 Fannin St., Suite 1630; Houston, TX 77030, USA)

  • Ashley Butler

    () (Department of Pediatrics, Psychology Section, Baylor College of Medicine; 1 Baylor Plaza BCM 320 Houston, TX 77030, USA)

  • Matthew Shelton

    () (Harris County Juvenile Probation Department, 1200 Congress Houston, TX 77002, USA)

  • Barbara Robles

    () (Department of Psychiatry, University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, Office of Education, 3535 Market Street 2nd floor, Philadelphia, PA 19104, USA)

  • Stephanie Kwok

    () (Menninger Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences; Baylor College of Medicine, 1 Baylor Plaza BCM 350, Houston, TX 77030, USA)

  • Sherri Simpson

    () (Private practice, 2786 Spain Drive, East Point, GA 30344, USA)

  • Dennis W. Young

    (Missouri City Baptist Church; 16816 Quail Park Dr. Missouri City, TX 77489, USA)

  • Amy Mayhew

    () (Cambridge Health Alliance Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School, 637 Washington Street, Dorchester, MA 02124, USA)

  • Ayanna Brown

    () (Kingwood Psychiatry, 19701 Kingwood Drive Suite 3, Kingwood, TX 77339, USA)

  • Albert John Sargent

    () (Department of Psychiatry, Tufts University School of Medicine, Tufts Medical Center, 800 Washington Street, Boston, MA 02111, USA)


Objective: Approximately 260,000 of youth in the United States are gang-affiliated. There is a paucity of data available to identify the prevalence of mental health disorders in this population. Gang members share many of the features of “at risk” or juvenile justice involved youth who deny gang membership. The authors identified rates of psychiatric disorders within a juvenile justice population delineated in three categories: gang members, friends of gang members, and non-gang members. M ethods : A retrospective review of records obtained by a juvenile probation department. A large detention center conducted mental health screenings on 7,615 youth aged 13–17. The mental health screenings were performed by either a master level or doctoral level mental health professional. Odds ratios were computed as an effect size for gender, race/ethnic differences, and gang-membership associations with self-reported psychiatric and substance use disorders. Logistic regression was used to evaluate the risk for psychiatric and substance use disorders among gang-members and friends of gang members. Diagnostic information was generated through a clinical interview and flexible battery. Results : Of the 7,615 youth in this study, ~50% had contact with gangs; 11% were self-identified gang-members, and 38% acknowledged having at least one friendship with a gang member. Similar to other studies, being male was a risk-factor for gang-membership (2.31 odds). In this multi-racial and ethnic study, Latinos had a greater affiliation with gang membership and association with gang members as friends (1.44 odds). Gang members were found to have increased rates of post-traumatic stress disorder (1.77 odds), current substance abuse (2.58 odds), oppositional defiant disorder, (1.24 odds) and conduct disorder (4.05 odds); however, they were less likely to have an adjustment disorder than non-gang members (0.70 odds). Conclusions : Juveniles who received a mental health assessment in this study were found to have differences in rates of psychiatric disorders and substance use based upon gang-affiliation or association. Current data is limited and inconsistent in the delineation of individual, family, peer, school and community characteristics specific to gang members. These differences warrant further investigation for intervention and treatment.

Suggested Citation

  • Toi Blakley Harris & Sara Elkins & Ashley Butler & Matthew Shelton & Barbara Robles & Stephanie Kwok & Sherri Simpson & Dennis W. Young & Amy Mayhew & Ayanna Brown & Albert John Sargent, 2013. "Youth Gang Members: Psychiatric Disorders and Substance Use," Laws, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 2(4), pages 1-9, October.
  • Handle: RePEc:gam:jlawss:v:2:y:2013:i:4:p:392-400:d:29559

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    Cited by:

    1. Dianna T. Kenny & Susan Blacker & Mark Allerton, 2014. "Reculer Pour Mieux Sauter : A Review of Attachment and Other Developmental Processes Inherent in Identified Risk Factors for Juvenile Delinquency and Juvenile Offending," Laws, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 3(3), pages 1-30, July.

    More about this item


    youth gang; mental health; substance use;

    JEL classification:

    • K0 - Law and Economics - - General
    • K1 - Law and Economics - - Basic Areas of Law
    • K2 - Law and Economics - - Regulation and Business Law
    • K3 - Law and Economics - - Other Substantive Areas of Law
    • K4 - Law and Economics - - Legal Procedure, the Legal System, and Illegal Behavior
    • D78 - Microeconomics - - Analysis of Collective Decision-Making - - - Positive Analysis of Policy Formulation and Implementation
    • E61 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Macroeconomic Policy, Macroeconomic Aspects of Public Finance, and General Outlook - - - Policy Objectives; Policy Designs and Consistency; Policy Coordination
    • E62 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Macroeconomic Policy, Macroeconomic Aspects of Public Finance, and General Outlook - - - Fiscal Policy
    • F13 - International Economics - - Trade - - - Trade Policy; International Trade Organizations
    • F42 - International Economics - - Macroeconomic Aspects of International Trade and Finance - - - International Policy Coordination and Transmission
    • F68 - International Economics - - Economic Impacts of Globalization - - - Policy


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