More than 1 million youths in the nation are gang members — more than triple the number estimated by law enforcement, according to a new study that shatters some long-held beliefs about gangs.

The study, published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, refutes the notions that gang members are overwhelmingly black or Latino males and that once youths join a gang, they cannot leave.

Lead author David Pyrooz, an assistant professor of criminal justice at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas, told the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange that gang members come from all backgrounds. The study found about 40 percent are non-Hispanic white, Pyrooz said, with the remainder disproportionately black and Latino.

He said another misperception suggests that when youths join a gang, they stay in it, when actually the turnover rate in a one-year period is about 36 percent.

The study also found about 30 percent of gang members are female.

Pyrooz noted the National Youth Gang Survey by the U.S. Justice Department puts the number of youths in gangs at only about 302,000.

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