Published: Sept. 28, 2016 By

David Pyrooz, assistant professor of sociology at CU Boulder, has won the 2016 Ruth Shonle Cavan Young Scholar Award from the American Society of Criminology.

The award recognizes outstanding contributions to the field of criminology by someone who has received his or her graduate degree within five years.

By earning the highest honor a junior scholar can receive in the discipline, Pyrooz joins a distinguished list of researchers who are “among the most accomplished in the field of criminology.”

Pyrooz is “honored and humbled” by the award, “especially because the past winners cast an awfully long shadow.”


David Pyrooz

Delbert Elliott, director of the Positive Youth Development Program at the Institute of Behavioral Science, as well as founding director of the institute’s Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence and distinguished professor emeritus of sociology, said Pyrooz himself casts a pretty good shadow.

Pyrooz is a “very sharp, talented young criminologist,” Elliott stated. “Getting this award was a major deal. This is a very competitive award for young scholars.”

Further, Pyrooz is making “very significant contributions” to the study of criminal gang culture, and is “one of the very few who’s looking at what happens when you get out of a gang,” Elliott said.

David Pyrooz is “honored and humbled” by the award, “especially because the past winners cast an awfully long shadow.”

Pyrooz graduated with his doctorate in criminology and criminal justice from Arizona State University in 2012. He joined CU Boulder’s faculty last year.

Pyrooz’s publication record buttresses Elliott’s assessment. In a study published in 2014, Pyrooz and Gary Sweeten of Arizona State University found that gang membership among youths between 5 and 17 totaled as many as 1 million in 2010 nationally.

Although that number is undoubtedly much larger than official law-enforcement statistics estimate, it represents only about 2 percent of the country’s youth population, Pyrooz and Sweeten noted.

At the same time, the researchers found that anti-gang interventions aimed at teen-agers can arrive too late, given that 1 percent of all American kids identified as gang members by age 10.

Additionally, Pyrooz and Sweeten showed that gang membership is more diverse than popularly believed. While many youthful gang members are poor African American or Latino males, “there is a large portion of females, whites and youth from two-parent and non-poverty families also participating in gangs,” the authors wrote.

In addition, the researchers discovered a 36-percent turnover rate among youthful gang members, undercutting the view that gang members rarely quit their affiliations.

In earlier work, Pyrooz and other researchers concluded that gangs did not use the internet to commit sophisticated cybercrimes such as phishing, identity theft or hacking.

Instead, gang members tend to engage in other illegal, but less-intricate, behavior, such as selling drugs, coordinating violence, compromising social-network sites to steal and rob, illegally downloading media, and uploading deviant videos.

While gang members might, at times, use the internet for illegal activity, they do not typically use it for recruitment, the researchers found. That study was co-authored by Pyrooz, Scott Decker at Sam Houston State University and Richard Moule of Arizona State University.

In another study with Decker and Moule, Pyrooz determined that gang members are twice as likely to become both victims of crime and criminal offenders than non-gang members, as single acts of violence often lead to retribution between gangs as a whole. The research team offered a studied explanation.

“It is not that gangs aren’t comprised of impulsive youth who live high-risk lifestyles, but that gangs are equipped with a collection of group processes and ‘manpower’ that better facilitate trading places as victim and offender,” Pyrooz stated in 2013.

To address such systemic issues, Pyrooz and his colleagues suggested that law-enforcement interventions focus on entire gang activity and their dynamics, and not just on individual offenders and victims.

Pyrooz will accept the Ruth Shonle Cavan Young Scholar Award during the American Society of Criminology’s annual meeting in November.