Gangs are steadily expanding into rural, suburban, and urban communities throughout the country. Street gangs in particular, which account for 88 percent of U.S. gang membership, have increased their numbers in 53 percent of the nation’s police jurisdictions, according to the 2013 National Gang Intelligence Center Gang Report. These gangs typically recruit their members while they are in primary or secondary school, leading these recruits toward academic malaise, criminal activity, and incarceration.
One way to reduce gang members’ ability to recruit in schools, and therefore keep communities safer through proactively addressing the problem is to create and enforce a school uniform. Gang members usually differentiate themselves from rival gangs members and non-members by wearing a specific color of clothing, cutting their hair a certain way, or dressing themselves in a particular style. Allowing gangs to distinguish themselves like this, places pressure on students who then realize the prevalence of gangs, feel unsafe because of the number of gang members, and feel compelled to join a gang for protection.
School uniforms address this issue. According to a National Association of Elementary School Principles’ study published in 2000, schools see a decrease in gang prevalence and school violence when they implement and enforce a school uniform. When compared to schools that do not have a school uniform, the result is significant. In addition, a study by Virginia Ann Bendel Draa for the School of Graduate Studies and Research at Youngstown State University in 2005, showed that school uniforms improved academic success and graduation rates, increased attendance, and decreased suspensions, making uniforms a way to help student avoid gangs throughout their time in school and beyond. Because they are an effective gang deterrent and improve student performance, school uniforms are becoming more prevalent in the United States. Between 2000 and 2010, the number of schools across the country implementing school uniforms increased from 12 percent to 19 percent in an effort to reduce criminal activity in schools, according to the National Center for Educational Statistics.
Even a dress code, if properly enforced, can have an effect on reducing gang recruitment and activity. According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, 55 percent of public schools strictly enforced a dress code between 2007 and 2009. Using dress codes to ban certain articles or styles of clothing associated with gangs prevalent in a school or district can still alleviate the worries of students by reducing the gang’s visibility and therefore alleviating pressure for students to join a gang.