U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

Violence-Free Zones



Violence-Free Zones is a grassroots community intervention for youth and gang-related violence. The Violence-Free Zone model is based on the premise that the breakdown of the family structure is a key risk factor for gang involvement and a major contributor to destructive behavior. In many cases, gang members come from fatherless homes in which their mothers struggle to meet the economic and individual needs of their children. Consequently, they find it difficult to provide the necessary guidance. Violence-Free Zone implementers fill this void, taking on the role of mentor (engaging in reparenting) and in outreach work. Job training and work opportunities are provided for youths’ social, personal, and economic development to help them make the transition from gang life and criminality to violence-free lives and productive citizenship. Successful youth are given the opportunity to collaborate with youth in other communities and cities to develop and expand Violence-Free Zones.

This replicable model is based on the House of Umoja program and the success of similarly designed neighborhood initiatives in other cities. In Washington, DC, the faith-based Alliance for Concerned Men, a grassroots organization, was instrumental in establishing a Violence-Free Zone in the Benning Terrace public housing project with assistance from the National Center for Neighborhood Enterprise (NCNE) and the DC Housing Authority. Each of these three components contributed to the effort—NCNE provided technical assistance; the alliance carried out grassroots intervention in gang conflicts; and the Housing Authority provided job opportunities such as refurbishing the neighborhood, removing graffiti, and landscaping. Together, they constitute the necessary structure for implementing a Violence-Free Zone. Participating cities include Washington, DC; Hartford, Connecticut; Indianapolis, Indiana; Los Angeles, California; Dallas, Texas; and Houston, Texas.

Risk Factors


Drug dealing

Few social ties (involved in social activities, popularity)

General delinquency involvement

High alcohol/drug use

Illegal gun ownership/carrying

Physical violence/aggression

Violent victimization


Broken home/changes in caretaker

Poor parent-child relations or communication


Poor school attitude/performance; academic failure


Availability of firearms

Community disorganization

Economic deprivation/poverty/residence in a disadvantaged neighborhood

Exposure to violence and racial prejudice

Feeling unsafe in the neighborhood

High-crime neighborhood

Neighborhood youth in trouble


Association with antisocial/aggressive/delinquent peers; high peer delinquency

Association with gang-involved peers/relatives

Gang membership


National Gang Center: Promising program structure


Mr. Terence Mathis
Center for Neighborhood Enterprise
1625 K Street NW, Suite 1200
Washington, DC 20006
Phone: (202) 518-6500, ext. 310
E-mail: [email protected]


National Center for Neighborhood Enterprise. (1999). Violence-Free Zone Initiatives. Washington, DC: National Center for Neighborhood Enterprise.

Date Created: April 7, 2021