A new study in the journal Criminology reports that children who join gangs feel significantly safer after they join the gang--even though gang members are actually more likely to be victims of violence and crime.
The study followed 1,450 public school students in the sixth through ninth grades, from 15 schools in four states, for two years, tracking both gang activity, personal victimization, and the student's sense of safety.
This finding highlights the psychological importance of finding a "tribe" and feeling connected to--and protected by--that tribe. Even though joining a gang makes you statistically less safe, the psychological effects of belonging override reality. The more we have to give up (or give) to belong to a group, the more we value membership. Gangs aren't the only groups that operate on this principle--it keeps people committed to fraternities, companies, and even professions.
People trying to keep youth out of gangs, or help them recover from violence they experienced as gang members, know this and must address it. The Art of Yoga project, a Bay-Area organization I advise has recently begun a mentoring program for girls in juvenile detention, to try to build social ties in detention that can protect students after they return to their communities. Mentoring is one way to build a psychological sense of safety and support that might keep girls from rejoining the social groups that would lead them back to juvenile detention or prison.
You can read more about the study here.