1 Million kids in gangs; most common age to join is 13Posted: Updated:
PHOENIX -- A new study from Arizona State University reveals there are more children in gangs than law enforcement ever realized, and they're often getting involved by the time they are 13 years old.
The study surveyed teenagers across the country. Researchers found there are 1 million juveniles who identify themselves as gang members. Law enforcement believed the number was closer to 300,000.
"It can affect any kid anywhere," says Brandon Randol. "It doesn’t matter whether you white, black, yellow purple -- it can affect anybody."
Brandon grew up in the suburbs with supportive parents. When he was 13, he was helping a kid with his homework who was in a gang. Before long, so was Brandon.
"It's the lifestyle I wanted," Brandon said. "The fast money, the respect walking down the street. Like, people didn’t want to mess with you because if they messed with you, they’re messing with this squad or that squad or these people."
Brandon got arrested on drug charges and kicked out of school three credits shy of his high school diploma.
But now, he's working toward completing his degree, thanks to an after-school program in Chandler that targets at-risk youth: ICAN.
The program's director says she is not surprised by the study's findings. Becky Jackson says they've seen children as young as 10 years old that are turning to a life of crime.
According to the ASU study, while minorities and children living in poverty are more likely to join gangs, the majority of gang members are non-Hispanic whites and not from impoverished homes -- kids just like Brandon.
"It was kind of like I wanted to be accepted by them," Brandon said. "You can be from the richest white neighborhood and you can still find aspects of gangs in there."
Brandon says when he started making different choices in life, he found support from ICAN.
"They’ve given me the chance to change my future," he said. "It’s not too late. I can get out of it. I can change."
Brandon says he also received support from his fellow gang members.
"They supported my choice to leave and better my family, than stay and destroy myself," Brandon said. "I did what they secretly wanted to do, what they may not have the opportunity to do."