LA tries new test to find gang members wanting out

Associated Press | January 7, 2012

LOS ANGELES — Melissa Pirraglio spent many of her 11 years of gang life in drug-addled despair seeking a way out.

“There’s an inkling in every single gang member looking for an opportunity to come out,” said Pirraglio, now 34 and a counselor to troubled youth. “You get to the point where you see the whole lifestyle is a lie.”

Anti-gang crusaders have known for years that tapping that inner desire can provide a path out of gangs — the problem is finding it in young people hardened by deep mistrust of outsiders and holding little hope in their futures.

Now researchers in Los Angeles think they have a test to measure how likely a gang member is to leave the gang.

“The big question has always been ’how do we get folks out?’” said the city’s anti-gang chief Guillermo Cespedes.

The new experiment in the field of gang intervention continues a psychology-based approach started two years ago by the mayor’s anti-gang office with a test aimed at finding youngsters likely to join a gang.

Social psychologists at the University of Southern California developed the questionnaires to identify youths likely to either join or leave a gang and get them the support they need to avoid gang life or help them leave it.

The new test is set to be rolled out this month with 80 gang members who anti-gang counselors know through their street outreach programs.

If their loyalty wavers, anti-gang counselors will step up efforts to encourage them to quit. That can include enrolling in drug rehab and job training, as well as working with gang members’ families to mend fractured relationships.

Gauging someone’s tendency to leave a gang is difficult. It’s a decision that usually takes time to come to, and is often triggered by major life change such as the birth of a child, the death of a loved one to gang violence, or the prospect of a lengthy prison sentence. Some gang members simply burn out.

“People come to personal individual turning points and it’s not something you can measure,” said Jorja Leap, a University of California, Los Angeles social welfare professor who is in the third of a five-year study of gang members who escape the lifestyle.

The new survey, which cost about $65,000 to develop, follows the moderately successful gang-joining test. Approximately 3,000 pre-teen and early teens were found at risk of gang membership, according to report released last summer by the Urban Institute.

After those kids participated in after-school programs and their parents took part in parenting workshops, they were found to have more positive attitudes and fewer delinquent behaviors.

That’s encouraging in a city that has been beleaguered by a four-decade-old gang problem. Los Angeles is the nation’s gang capital with an estimated 41,000 gang members in 700 gangs.

The new psychological test picks up where the first left off.

USC researchers came up with measures of the strength of a gang member’s allegiance and to what extent he derives his identity from the gang.

Read more at: www.bostonherald.com/news/national/west/view.bg?articleid=1394073&srvc=rss

Posted by on Jan 7 2012. Filed under News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

3 Comments for “LA tries new test to find gang members wanting out”

  1. jason

    you think you’re cool? you’re not. you’re the problem. stop making comments on here it’s not for you.

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