Baćak, V., DeWitt, S., & Reid, S. (In press). Gang membership and mental health during the transition to adulthood. Journal of Quantitative Criminology.
Objectives: There is an increasing understanding that mental health may be a collateral consequence of joining a gang. The objective of the present study is to assess the effect of gang joining on a set of diverse mental health outcomes that include depression, anxiety, hostility, and paranoid ideation. Methods: To reduce bias in our comparisons, we balance gang-joiner and gang-abstainer groups by applying the entropy balancing algorithm to longitudinal data from the Pathways to Desistance study. Results: The results indicate that joining a gang is implicated in poor outcomes for all four measures of mental health considered in our analysis. The observed associations persist both at the first and second wave after joining a gang. Conclusions: To understand more comprehensively both the short- and long-term consequences of gang joining, scholars of crime and justice must expand their focus to include mental health—not solely as a predictor of group offending but also as its consequence. Future studies should also consider mental health in the context of gang desistance.