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Social networks and gangs: moving research forward with low-cost data collection opportunities in school and prison settings

Martin Bouchard (School of Criminology, Simon Fraser University, Vancouver, Canada)

Journal of Aggression, Conflict and Peace Research

ISSN: 1759-6599

Article publication date: 9 July 2021

Issue publication date: 24 August 2021




As useful as police data have been in furthering our knowledge of gangs and gang violence networks, not everything about gang networks can be learned from examining police data alone. There are numerous alternative sources of data that already exist on gang networks and some that can be developed further. This study aims to introduce existing research on social networks and gangs with a specific focus on prisons and schools.


This study reviews the existing empirical literature on gang networks in schools and prison settings and use the broader literature on social networks and crime to propose directions for future research, including specific suggestions on data collection opportunities that are considered to be low-cost; that is, strategies that simply make use of existing administrative records in both settings, instead of developing original data collection procedures.


The author found the existing literature on each of these settings to be quite limited, especially when the spotlight is put specifically on gang networks. These shortcomings can be addressed via low-cost opportunities for data collection in each of these settings, opportunities that simply require the network coding of existing administrative records as a foundation for gang network studies.


Investing in these low-cost network data collection activities have the potential for theoretical and empirical contributions on our understanding of gang networks, and may also bring value to practitioners working in school and prison settings as a guide for network-based planning or interventions.



The author would like to thank Karine Descormiers and Krysta Dawson, as well as three anonymous reviewers for helpful comments made on an early draft of this paper. Jasmine Taylor provided useful research assistance.


Bouchard, M. (2021), "Social networks and gangs: moving research forward with low-cost data collection opportunities in school and prison settings", Journal of Aggression, Conflict and Peace Research, Vol. 13 No. 2/3, pp. 110-124.



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