A gang is a group of people who may be involved in crime and violence. Many young people will not realise they are in a gang, they will just think they are in a group of friends. It's important to remember that being in a gang is not illegal, only the criminal offences committed are illegal.

Being in a gang puts children and young people at more risk of:

  • committing crime
  • dealing or taking drugs
  • ending up in prison
  • being a victim of violence and even death.

Why do young people join street gangs?

Young people can join gangs for a number of reasons. They can join for:

  • recognition 
  • excitement 
  • friends 
  • acceptance
  • a sense of belonging 
  • power over other people 
  • money from crime
  • protection 
  • territory 
  • respect. 

Gangs and the law

Although there are no laws banning gangs or gang membership, there are laws to prevent the criminal activities linked to gangs. 

  • It is illegal to have or carry drugs like cannabis, cocaine and ecstasy.
  • It is illegal to carry any knife if there is intent to use it as a weapon (even if it belongs to someone else). 
  • It is illegal to carry or keep a gun without a licence, including fake or replica guns.
  • Police can (and will) search anyone they think may be carrying a gun or a knife.
  • Police and school staff can also search young people for weapons at school. 
  • Offenders who are members of a gang could face longer sentences if they have to appear in court. 

Carrying a gun or a knife could mean being arrested, going to court and ending up with a criminal record that will affect the rest of that person’s life. Having a criminal record can prevent people from getting a job, going to university or college, or even travelling abroad.

Advice for parents

Be on the look-out for warning signs that suggest your child may be involved in a gang.

Visual signs

  • Gang symbols: on schoolbooks, pencil cases, bags, bedroom posters and personal possessions.
  • Clothing: young people wearing certain colours relating to specific gangs. 
  • Hand signals: sometimes hand signals are given by individuals to show which gang they are aligned. 
  • Postcodes: young people often align themselves to postcodes. 


  • A rise in skipping school. 
  • Sudden changes in your child’s selection of friends. 
  • An increased number of social groups with unusual ‘gang’ names your child is hanging around with.
  • Your child may experience bullying and pressure to join a gang. 
  • They may be vague or secretive about their activities. 
  • Possessing relatively large sums of money or bringing expensive items home. 
  • Getting in trouble with the police. 


  • Be aware of the websites your child is viewing. Social networking sites can give access to images and words promoting gang culture. 
  • Chat rooms and texts can be used to bully young people into joining gangs. 


  • Rap music associated with gangs can be threatening and violent.
  • Know what your children are listening to. 

For in-depth advice, visit gov.uk