How dangerous can extreme antisocial behavior become in a young person’s life? When mixed with truancy and the drug trade, a perfect storm brewed in the 1990s that sprouted youth gangs across the country. While tales of gang-related violence once dominated nightly news in households nationwide, it has experienced a steep decline in the last 20 years.


In some cities, like Galveston, Texas, the decrease can be partially attributed to a collection of local officials and mental health professionals who approached the situation with an “it takes a village to raise a child” mindset


In this episode of Mind Dive, Christopher Thomas, MD, joins hosts Robert Boland, MD, and Kerry Horrell, PhD, to discuss the transformative work he engaged in to turn the tide on youth gang proliferation on the island of Galveston.


This discussion centers on Dr. Thomas’ experience in leading a 1992 mayoral task force that strategically targeted the roots of the youth gang issue by teaching empathy in schools, addressing deprogramming needed in post-gang life and uplifting positive role models. Community leaders, nonprofit organizations, teachers, law enforcement and mental health professionals came together to pave better futures for the young islanders by addressing mental health factors.


These efforts brought an 80% reduction in violent crimes and led to an unprecedented homicide rate of 0% in less than three years. 


Dr. Thomas also discusses the widespread implementation of the youth-focused effort.

“We can’t tell the difference between the ones that we can save and the ones we can’t. Ultimately, everyone is worthy of a chance.” Christopher Thomas, MD

Dr. Thomas is the Robbert L. Stubblefield Professor of Child Psychiatry in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. He also serves as UTMB’s Assistant Dean for Graduate Medical Education and Director of the Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Residency Training Program. 


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