Programs that Work
Gang Resistance Education and Training (G.R.E.A.T.)
Healthy and Safe Children
Children and youth not engaging in violent behavior or displaying serious conduct problems
Age of Child
Early Childhood (0-8)
Middle Childhood (9-12)
Type of Setting
Out of School Time
Type of Service
Type of Outcome Addressed
Substance Use and Dependence
Evidence Level (What does this mean?)
The Gang Resistance Education and Training (G.R.E.A.T.) program is a school-based curriculum facilitated by law-enforcement officers. The program’s primary objective is to prevent delinquency, youth violence, and gang membership. The G.R.E.A.T. program was originally developed in 1991 by police officers from the Phoenix metropolitan area and agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms. Since then, the gang prevention program has been replicated numerous times in cities across the country. By 1997, G.R.E.A.T. had been established in all 50 states and the District of Columbia with more than 2,400 participating officers.
The G.R.E.A.T. program consists of four components—a middle school curriculum, an elementary school curriculum, a summer program, and a families training component. The core, required portion of the program is the middle school curriculum, which seeks to reduce gang activity, delinquent behavior, and violence by teaching students the consequences of gang involvement and by teaching them life skills and problem-solving techniques.
Middle school students, elementary school students, and their families
Esbensen and Osgood (1999) conducted a retrospective one-year study of the effects of G.R.E.A.T. among eighth graders who had and had not participated in the middle school program during seventh grade. Eleven sites were included in the study, identified through records indicating that at least two police officers had been trained to teach G.R.E.A.T. in recent years, including Kansas City, Missouri; Las Cruces, New Mexico; Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Omaha, Nebraska; Orlando, Florida; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Phoenix, Arizona; Pocatello, Idaho; Providence, Rhode Island; Torrance, California; and Will County, Illinois. In each of the sites, researchers selected schools that had offered G.R.E.A.T. programs during the past two years. All eighth-graders who attended school on the day the surveys were administered became part of the sample, with attendance ranging from 75 to 93 percent among the schools. The final sample was 5,935 eighth-graders in 315 classrooms from 42 schools.
Researchers randomly selected treatment classrooms in which the G.R.E.A.T. program had been offered and selected comparison classrooms from among those that had not implemented the G.R.E.A.T. curriculum (or any other gang-related curriculum). No pretests of students’ attitudes or behavior were conducted. Analysis of students’ demographic variables revealed few significant differences between groups, with the exception of treatment students being significantly younger than comparison students and being marginally more likely to live only with their fathers. Survey questions contained items measuring self-reports of delinquency and gang membership.
Esbensen et al. (2001) conducted a second evaluation of the middle school G.R.E.A.T. program. Schools in six cities were selected for the study, based on the existence of a G.R.E.A.T. program in the city, geographic location, and the cooperation of the local school districts and police departments. The study sites included an East Coast city (Philadelphia), a West Coast city (Portland), the original G.R.E.A.T. city (Phoenix), a Midwestern city (Omaha), a "non-gang" city (Lincoln), and a small border city with chronic gang problems (Las Cruces). Classrooms were randomly assigned to the treatment or control group, and the analysis sample consisted of more than 3,500 students in 153 classrooms from 22 schools, roughly evenly divided between the treatment and control group. Because the G.R.E.A.T. program was implemented differently at each site (varying by class scheduling and structure of the schools), random assignment was implemented differently at each district and/or school.
Pretest surveys indicated that the treatment group held more negative beliefs about gangs, higher rates of self-reported status offenses (offenses specific to juveniles, e.g., school truancy, curfew violations, or running away from home), higher rates of delinquency among peers, and lower rates of prosocial behavior among peers. The initial post-test survey was conducted two weeks after the program was completed. Subsequently, students were surveyed once a year for three consecutive years. The follow-up surveys required active consent from the parents in all sites; the final rate for parental consent was 57 percent of the total initial sample (2,045 students). Eighty-six percent of children who obtained parental consent completed the initial post-test (1,761 students), with follow-up rates of 76 percent, 69 percent, and 67 percent in the first, second, and third follow-up years, respectively. The surveys included questions on self-reported gang activity, drug use, and delinquent behavior.
Key Evaluation Findings
Esbensen and Osgood (1999) reported the following:
- Students who participated in the G.R.E.A.T. program reported significantly less drug use, total delinquency across all offense types, and minor offenses (e.g., drinking alcohol, petty theft, fighting) than did students who did not participate in G.R.E.A.T.
- No significant differences were found between groups for current or previous gang membership, number of offenses against persons or property, rates of selling drugs, or number of status offenses.
- At initial post-test, there were no significant differences between the G.R.E.A.T. and comparison groups for gang membership, drug use, total delinquency, minor delinquency, person delinquency (e.g., assault, robbery, harassment), property delinquency (e.g., arson, auto theft, burglary, larceny), or status delinquency (e.g., school truancy, curfew violations, or running away from home).
- As found from the longitudinal follow-up surveys, G.R.E.A.T. participants were significantly less likely to demonstrate property delinquency, while they were marginally less likely than the control group to have engaged in minor delinquency or to have exhibited higher scores on the measure of total delinquency. No significant differences were found between the groups for gang membership, drug use, person delinquency, or status delinquency.
Middle schools and elementary schools in cooperation with police departments serving high-risk/high-gang-activity areas
Federal funding for local agencies to implement the G.R.E.A.T. program is available through grants from the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA). In 2004, 215 BJA grants were given to municipal or state agencies to assist them in providing G.R.E.A.T. in their local schools and communities. Early in 2005 continuation grants were approved for most of those agencies, and later in 2005 BJA will hold open competition for remaining grant funds, with all law enforcement agencies eligible to apply. Interested applicants can find information about the grant application on the G.R.E.A.T. website, or on BJA’s website at http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/BJA/grant/great.html.
Previous funding for G.R.E.A.T. programs has been obtained through the Safe and Drug-Free Schools Act, the Office of Juvenile Justice Delinquency Prevention, Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS), the YMCA, the YWCA, and the Boys and Girls Clubs of America.
The G.R.E.A.T. program requires formal partnerships between schools and local police departments, and a written agreement from a school is a required element of the school’s enrollment in the program.
Trained police officers are in charge of the implementation and delivery of the curriculum. As such, G.R.E.A.T. schools must commit to allowing officer(s) to interact with the children both in a formal classroom setting and informally on the playground or in the cafeteria. These informal sessions are intended to enhance the bonding process between the officer(s) and students.
The G.R.E.A.T. program includes four components: (1) a middle school curriculum, (2) an elementary school curriculum, (3) a summer program, and (4) a families training component.
(1) The 13-week middle school curriculum, which is skills based, is designed to enhance students’ knowledge and produce changes in their attitudes and behavior through the use of facilitative teaching (which encourages active participation by students), positive-behavior rehearsal, cooperative and interactive learning techniques, and extended teacher activities. The curriculum is designed to provide students with the skills they need to avoid gang pressure and youth violence. The curriculum consists of 13 lessons, each 45-minutes to 60-minutes long, which cover topics such as "Relationship Between Gangs, Violence, Drugs, and Crime" and "Community, Roles and Responsibilities."
(2) The elementary school curriculum, designed for fourth- and fifth-grade students, is a skills-based program that is similar to the middle school curriculum. The program has the added goals of early prevention of antisocial behavior and the promotion of positive relationships with law enforcement for children at an early age. The curriculum consists of six 30-minute to 45-minute lessons, each of which is accompanied by a letter to parents that explains the lesson and encourages student/parent interaction. The lessons cover topics such as "Bullying, Victim and Bystander" and "Identifying Adults When We Need Help."
(3) The summer program builds on the school-based curricula by offering students an opportunity to enhance their social and cognitive skills, providing them with alternatives to gang involvement, and adding structure to the summer months.
(4) The families program has the goal of strengthening communities and families by engaging youths age 10 to 14 and their parents in cooperative lessons designed to facilitate better communication among family members and enhance family decision-making skills. The curriculum uses group interaction, activities, and skills practice, and each of the six sessions is led by a facilitator trained in the G.R.E.A.T. families component.
The G.R.E.A.T. middle school and elementary school curricula are facilitated by uniformed police officers in the school. Guidelines are offered G.R.E.A.T. Program Coordinators to assist schools in the selection of officers being considered for training.
G.R.E.A.T. requires a 40-hour training component for officers who have previous experience in school-based instruction or an 80-hour training component for officers who have no previous experience in this area.
A two-day training session is available for certified G.R.E.A.T. officers who are interested in leading G.R.E.A.T. families programs. Certified facilitators are authorized to train members of their co-facilitation teams, who may include teachers, youth counselors, parents, or other qualified adults who are committed to working with families.
Issues to Consider
The G.R.E.A.T. program received a "promising" rating. Both evaluations of the program indicate that treatment-group students had more positive outcomes than comparison students on self-reported measures of total delinquency and minor delinquency.
The two studies of the G.R.E.A.T. program exhibit methodological weaknesses. For example, while Esbensen and Osgood (1999) used sophisticated statistical techniques, their comparison group had shortcomings. They analyzed outcomes among groups of students who had not been randomly assigned to the treatment group and the researchers did not have baseline (pretest) data available to ensure group comparability. Additionally, while the study by Esbensen et al. (2001) made use of a randomized design and a pretest, randomization was not implemented uniformly across sites, and the requirement for active parental consent resulted in a baseline participation rate of only 57 percent of the eligible students. Thus, generalizations to the entire study population are somewhat limited.
While the central goal of the G.R.E.A.T. program is prevention of gang involvement, no significant findings on gang-related activity measures were noted in either study. Similarly, neither study reported significant program effects on rates of offenses against person. Conflicting results were found for drug use, with Esbensen and Osgood (1999) reporting significantly reduced drug use among treatment students, but Esbensen et al. (2001) reporting no significant differences between groups for any of the four follow-up measurements. Similarly, conflicting results between the studies were found for rates of property delinquency, with Esbensen and Osgood (1999) reporting no differences between treatment and control groups, and Esbensen et al. (2001) reporting significantly higher rates of property offenses among control students.
The study by Esbensen et al. (2001) suggests that the G.R.E.A.T. program may have a delayed impact on participants, because study results indicated no significant differences between treatment and control groups immediately following program completion, but there were a handful of significant findings from the one-, two-, and three-year follow-ups.
- Boston Police Department
- Philadelphia Police Department
- Phoenix Police Department
- Portland Police Bureau
- Tucson Police Department
G.R.E.A.T. Program Coordinator
Institute for Intergovernmental Research
P.O. Box 12729
Tallahassee, FL 32317
Web site: http://www.great-online.org
Telephone: (800) 726-7070
Fax: (850) 386-5356
Training is available through one of five regional training sites for law enforcement officers wanting to become qualified G.R.E.A.T. program facilitators:
- Midwest Region: La Cross Police Department, La Cross, Wisconsin
- (877) 86-GREAT
- Northeast Region: Philadelphia Police Department, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
- (215) 686-1477
- Southeast Region: Orange County Sheriffs Office, Orlando, Florida
- (800) 363-5569
- Western Region: Portland Police Bureau, Portland, Oregon
- (800) 823-7188
- Southwest Region: Phoenix Police Department, Phoenix, Arizona
- (800) 24-GREAT
Esbensen, Finn-Aage, and D. Wayne Osgood, "Gang Resistance Education and Training (G.R.E.A.T.): Results from the National Evaluation,"
Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency,
Vol. 36, No. 2, 1999, pp. 194-225.
Esbensen, Finn-Aage, D. Wayne Osgood, Terrance J. Taylor, Dana Peterson, and Adrienne Freng, "How Great is G.R.E.A.T.? Results from a Longitudinal Quasi-Experimental Design," Criminology and Public Policy, Vol. 1, No. 1, 2001, pp. 87-118.