Youth and gang violence is a widespread public health crisis and an issue of national importance. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, homicide is the second leading cause of death among youth 10-24 years of age in the United States. In spite of the misperception that Long Island is devoid of any significant youth violence concerns, bullying and gang affiliation has been on the rise and continue to risk the wellbeing of the region’s young people. In a report published by the New York State Education Department, Long Island schools showed a large number of incidents of intimidation and harassment. Pervasive harassment and bullying make schools hostile places, undermining student’s ability to flourish. In addition, Long Island is home to thousands of gang members that are affiliated with some of the most notorious and violent gangs in the country. The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention indicates that most gang members join between the ages of 12 and 15.
Violence is disproportionately higher in economically disadvantaged communities where persistent unemployment, rising gang presence, and limited social supports can often lead to destructive behaviors. While statistics show an overall decrease in violent crime on Long Island, these communities have seen violent crime increases as high as 40 percent. Violence erodes communities by reducing productivity, decreasing property values, and disrupting social services. However, incarcerating youth who are involved in destructive behavior has been proven to be counterproductive - incarcerated youth are more likely to commit violent crime than those that don’t serve time.
LICF funds programs that focus on bullying prevention; gang prevention/intervention; and juvenile justice reform. Long Island has a number of nonprofit organizations working on bullying prevention and strengthening support systems for high risk youth, but there are very few tackling gang related issues. However, it is understood that there are concomitant forces at play pertaining to a young person’s decision to engage in violent behavior and gang involvement that can be addressed by youth development organizations that do not identify as gang prevention organizations.
On Long Island:
- By age 24, 60% of people who were childhood bullies have at least one criminal conviction.
- Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender youth are bullied TWO to THREE times MORE than heterosexual students.
- Juveniles account for nearly 20% of all violent crime arrests.
- Long Island is home to nearly 5,000 gang members.