Youth survey yields alarming results

Published 10:45 am Friday, October 22, 2010

JACKSON — The presence of gangs is very much a reality in Northampton County, according to a recent survey of the county’s youth.

On Monday, Northeastern Economic Empowerment Corporation (NEEC) Executive Director Walter Smith and Program Director Dr. John R. Jones presented the Northampton County Board of Commissioners with the results of a youth survey conducted within the county.

“As you are aware, NEEC implemented and completed a gang prevention assessment program starting last September  and we concluded at the end of this September,” said Smith.

The funding for the assessment was through the NC Department of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.

Smith presented the commissioners with a summary report of the gang assessment.

“We distributed probably 2,000 surveys in Northampton County,” he said. “They were designed for three groups. The first group was for grades five through seven, the second was for grades eight through 12 and then we had survey designed for out of school or in school youth ages 16 to 24.”

East Carolina University’s Department of Social Work and Criminal Justice compiled the data from the surveys into a report.

Some highlights of the survey include:

The average age at first joining a gang is 13.

More than 39 percent of the 477 youth surveyed in grades 5-7 have knowledge of gangs in their neighborhood.

Approximately 28 youth in the same age group claim to have some affiliation with a gang.

In grades 8-12, 39 percent of 422 youth respondents said they have friends that are in gangs.  Seventy-four of those respondents reported they have past gang membership and 28 say they are affiliated with a gang.

As for the NEEC youth survey given to 412 individuals ages 15-24, 39 percent know others in a gang.

Meanwhile, more than 30 of those individuals surveyed claimed gang involvement.

“From the survey several risk factors were established,” said Smith. “Those risk factors are evident through the numbers we found.”

Data on risk factors for becoming involved in a gang was also taken. Smith highlighted the overall results of those as well.

Overall more than 50 percent of youth surveyed say they have used alcohol while 55 percent have at least had one school suspension.

Twenty percent have friends that have been arrested.

Over 50 percent had either used or have family members that use marijuana.

About 70 percent of the young people surveyed said it was alright to beat people up.

Around 77 percent surveyed admitted they had bullied someone or had been bullied.

Over 40 percent of the youth surveyed had moved a number of times (between one and seven) with nine percent saying they had moved seven times or more during their school career.

Approximately 47 percent say they have carried a gun with them in the past year. Sixty-two percent have friends that carry guns.

Forty-nine percent of the young people surveyed admitted they have sold illegal drugs.

Eighty-three percent say they have family that often insult or yell at one another.

Smith said policy recommendation from the assessment survey included providing quality after-school programs, violence prevention curriculum/peaceful conflict resolution, drug and gang prevention education programs, mentoring and tutoring, special empowerment groups for ages 11-14 for male youth and create in-school suspension programs.

He added those areas are what the second half of the gang prevention program will focus on when it is implemented.

Commissioner Virginia Spruill asked Smith if he encountered any “surprises” from the results of the survey.

“I think the statistical data is higher than I expected and of course drugs is a part of gang involvement,” he said. “Children and youth join gangs for support, protection, money—all of the things traditional families are supposed to provide.”

He added he believed the weapon statistics were “frightening” on the level that so many either carried or had knowledge of carrying a weapon. Smith also showed concerned of the results on family members yelling and insulting one another.

“I believe that was higher than anticipated,” he said.

“Based on your professional knowledge, did you find anything that was unique to Northampton, that is different from any other (county) that this agency has done surveys of,” asked County Manager Wayne Jenkins.

“The other county we did the assessment in was Hertford and the statistics were very close,” Smith responded. “What is surprising, again alarming, is there were about 100 youth that say they are somehow affiliated with gangs.”

Commission Chair Fannie Greene questioned Smith about the large percent of females involved with gangs.

According to the results, nine out of the 28 respondents who said they were affiliated with a gang for grades 5-7 were female; in grades 8-12, eight of the 28 were female and for the NEEC survey, 19 percent of 37 individuals were female.

Smith agreed that data was larger than participated.

Commission Vice Chair James Hester asked Smith if he believed the statistics would change if he presented the results to parents in their local church.

Smith said it may change some of the youth behavior.

Commissioner Robert Carter motioned to approve the application for NEEC to seek funding for the second half of the program; it was seconded by Hester. The motion passed without objection.