Background: Youth gangs have long been studied in the United States and interest elsewhere is increasing. Many studies document a robust and consistent relationship between gang membership and elevated delinquency. One theory of gang involvement, drawing on anomie and strain theories, proposes that the gang provides a means of fulfilling the economic needs of youth excluded from legitimate labour markets. Opportunities provision is a gang prevention strategy based on this theory and the principle that providing youth with educational and employment opportunities may reduce gang involvement. Common techniques within opportunities provision include tutoring, remedial education, job training, and job placement.
Objectives: To determine the effectiveness of opportunities provision for preventing youth gang involvement for children and young people aged 7 to 16.
Search strategy: Electronic searches were conducted of ASSIA, CINAHL, CJA, Cochrane Library, Dissertations Abstracts, EMBASE, ERIC, IBSS, LILACs, LexisNexis Butterworths, MEDLINE, NCJR Service Abstracts Database, PsycINFO, and Sociological Abstracts, to April 2007. Reviewers contacted relevant organisations, individuals and list-servs and searched pertinent websites and reference lists.
Selection criteria: All randomised controlled trials or quasi-randomised controlled trials of interventions that have opportunities provision as the majority component, delivered to children and youths aged 7 to 16 not involved in a gang, compared to any other or no intervention.
Data collection and analysis: Searches yielded 2,696 unduplicated citations. 2,676 were excluded based on title and abstract. Two were excluded based on personal communication with study authors. Full-text reports for 18 citations were retrieved. 16 were excluded because they were not evaluations, did not address a gang prevention programme, did not include gang-related outcomes, did not include opportunities provision intervention components, or presented preliminary findings for outcomes reported in another citation. The remaining two reports were at least partially relevant to opportunities provision for gang prevention, but methodological flaws excluded both from analysis.
Main results: No randomised controlled trials or quasi-randomised controlled trials were identified.
Authors' conclusions: No evidence from randomised controlled trials or quasi-randomised controlled trials currently exists regarding the effectiveness of opportunities provision for gang prevention. Only two studies addressed opportunities provision as a gang prevention strategy, a case study and a qualitative study, both of which had such substantial methodological limitations that even speculative conclusions as to the impact of opportunities provision were impossible. Rigorous primary evaluations of gang prevention strategies are crucial to develop this research field, justify funding of existing interventions, and guide future gang prevention programmes and policies.