THREE USC RESEARCHERS will use an $850,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Education to research junior high school students at risk for joining gangs.
Cheryl Maxson, an authority on gangs and gang violence, Monica Whitlock, a doctoral candidate in sociology, and Priscilla “Penny” Wohlstetter, an authority on school governance and school reform, will track 400 students enrolled in Los Angeles middle schools experiencing a high level of gang activity and violence.
“Despite precipitous drops in gang homicide in Los Angeles County, a high proportion of homicides continues to show gang involvement, so it remains really important to get at the root of this,” said Maxson, a research associate professor of sociology in the College of Letters, Arts and Sciences and director of the Social Science Research Institute’s interdisciplinary Center for the Study of Crime and Social Control. “Gang involvement is found in four out of five adolescent homicides in Los Angeles County.”
Maxson, Whitlock and Wolhstetter will assess the subjects in the sixth through eighth grades and again 18 months later. They will examine features unique to the project’s six to nine focus schools as well as the characteristics of each student’s family, peer group, neighborhood and educational experience. The project is expected to take three years to complete.
“Within the first sample, we suspect some students will get involved in gangs,” said Wohlstetter, a professor of educational policy, planning and administration in the Rossier School of Education and director of the school’s Center on Educational Governance. “We hope to compare youths who join gangs with youths who are in the same settings but didn’t join gangs – to find out what protected the second group.”
The researchers hope their findings will provide insight to educators trying to design school-based prevention and intervention efforts.