Review of Promising and Effective Juvenile Delinquency and Youth Gang Programs

Strategic Planning Tool (SPT) Program Matrix

In 2005, the SPT was developed as a technical assistance resource to serve professionals in the juvenile justice and criminal justice systems and community members who deal with gangs. The Program Matrix, a tool for locating evidence-based programs, provides a rich and detailed review of delinquency prevention, intervention, suppression, and treatment programs that have a higher potential for preventing and reducing serious and violent delinquency, including gang activity. Criteria used to rate programs in the Matrix were based on similar rating scales found in the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) Model Programs Guide (MPG), the OJJDP-funded Blueprints for Violence Prevention, and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration National Registry of Evidence-Based Programs and Practices (SAMHSA NREPP). See “Related Web Sites.” Initially for the SPT, programs rated for inclusion were based on a joint review by NGC and MPG staff members. Although the Program Matrix is not intended to be exhaustive, NGC has continued to add programs based on both ratings and the originally developed eligibility and rating criteria explained in the sections that follow.

Programs are cross-referenced for specific age groups and defined by the following ratings:

  • PG=Promising gang program
  • EG=Effective gang program
  • PGS=Promising gang structure
  • EGS=Effective gang structure
  • PD=Promising delinquency program
  • ED=Effective delinquency program
  • PDS=Promising delinquency structure
  • EDS=Effective delinquency structure
  • PA=Promising adult program
  • EA=Effective adult program

Each of the programs listed contains specific contact information for readers seeking more detailed information regarding program methodology, cost, and replication.

Program Eligibility Checklist for Inclusion

  • Involves a prevention, intervention, or suppression program
  • Aims to explicitly reduce or prevent gang-related behavior; or if not, applied to a juvenile at-risk population
  • Involves youth under the age of 21
  • Involves a comparison condition
  • Date of supporting study publication is 1950 or later

Program Matrix Rating Criteria

In 2005, systematic reviews of gang programs were made a U.S. government priority. Nine federal agencies, including the U.S. Department of Justice, were directed by the White House to establish criteria for these reviews. Thus, gang programs are scored on the following agreed-upon and widely accepted scientific standards for judging program effectiveness.

The four program effectiveness dimensions are:

  1. Conceptual framework (9 points)
  2. Program fidelity (9 points)
  3. Evaluation design (9 points)
  4. Outcome evidence (9 points)

Each of these program effectiveness criterion is allocated a total of 9 points, with an overall maximum of 36 points. The overall scores on the effectiveness dimensions are used to classify programs into three effectiveness categories and provide the user with a summary knowledge base of the research supporting a particular program.

  • The supporting study must investigate the effects of a prevention or intervention program designed to address problem behaviors that place youth at risk for juvenile delinquency and other problem behaviors. The program must focus on one of the following problem behaviors: delinquency; violence; youth gang involvement; alcohol, tobacco, and drug use; academic difficulties; family functioning; trauma exposure; or sexual activity/exploitation.
  • The intervention must (a) explicitly aim to prevent or reduce a problem behavior in a universal or selected juvenile population; or (b) if not explicitly aimed to reduce or prevent a problem behavior, apply to a juvenile population at risk for problem behaviors.
  • The supporting study design must involve a comparison condition. A comparison condition can be (a) no treatment; (b) treatment as usual; (c) a placebo treatment; (d) a straw-man alternative treatment; or (e) a time period. Thus, eligible study designs may include experimental with random assignment; nonequivalent quasi-experimental; and quasi-experimental, one-group pretest-posttest studies. Nonexperimental and case study designs are specifically excluded.
  • The date of publication or reporting of the study must be subsequent to 1950.

Program Rating Levels

Level I programs (considered “effective/exemplary” programs) must score an overall rating of at least 28 points with at least 6 points in each dimension of program effectiveness. In general, when implemented with a high degree of fidelity, these programs demonstrate robust empirical findings using a reputable conceptual framework and an evaluation design of the highest quality.

Level II programs (considered “effective” programs) must score an overall rating of at least 23 points with at least 5 points in each dimension of program effectiveness. In general, when implemented with sufficient fidelity, these programs demonstrate adequate empirical findings using a sound conceptual framework and an evaluation design of high quality.

Level III programs (considered “promising” programs) must score an overall rating of at least 18 points with at least 4 points in each dimension of program effectiveness.

Readers are reminded that few gang-related programs have been rigorously evaluated; hence, most of the prevention programs described here are rated “promising.”

Promising or Effective Program Structures

The NGC database of promising and effective programs is unique in that it includes “program structures.” Some programs are purely “structures” which, as such, do not have a specific therapeutic content. That is, they provide a setting or context that fulfills specific needs or requirements other than service delivery, and their delinquency or gang-reduction potential is very small and may be short-term. Shelter-care facilities, detention centers, group homes, and intensive supervision programs are prime examples of such program structures or formats that have intrinsic value for purposes other than delinquency reduction, such as controlling offenders or providing a safe environment for children and adolescents. However, services could be provided in these settings or formats to enhance their value in a continuum of structures and services.


Bell, K. E. (2009). Gender and gangs: A quantitative comparison. Crime and Delinquency, 55, 363–387.

Chesney-Lind, M. (2013). How can we prevent girls from joining gangs? In T. R. Simon, N. M. Ritter, and R. R. Mahendra (eds.), Changing course: Preventing gang membership (pp. 121–133). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Decker, S. H., Melde, C., and Pyrooz, D. C. (2013). What do we know about gangs and gang members and where do we go from here? Justice Quarterly, 30, 369–402.

Esbensen, F. A., Peterson, D., Taylor, T. J., and Freng, A. (2009). Similarities and differences in risk factors for violent offending and gang membership. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Criminology, 42, 310–335.

Gilman, A. B., Hill, K. G., Hawkins, J. D., Howell, J. C., and Kosterman, R. (2014). The developmental dynamics of joining a gang in adolescence: Patterns and predictors of gang membership. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 24, 204–219.

Gottfredson, G. D. (2013). What can schools do to help prevent gang joining? In T. R. Simon, N. M. Ritter, and R. R. Mahendra (eds.). Changing course: Preventing gang membership (pp. 89–104). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Hill, K. G., Howell, J. C., Hawkins, J. D., and Battin-Pearson, S. R. (1999). Childhood risk factors for adolescent gang membership: Results from the Seattle Social Development Project. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, 36, 300–322.

Howell, J. C., and Egley, A. Jr. (2005). Moving risk factors into developmental theories of gang membership. Youth Violence and Juvenile Justice, 3, 334–354.

Howell, J. C., Lipsey, M. W., and Wilson, J. J. (2014). A handbook for evidence-based juvenile justice systems. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books.

Go directly to the main content section. Go directly to the main navigation menu.
Privacy Policy    Plug-Ins    Notice of Federal Funding and Federal Disclaimer    Accessibility
Access keys help