Why Youth Become Involved in Gangs Arjun Kapadiya 820-519-759 Prof. Jasdeep Singh CRIM 204 – 01 Youth in Crime “I have reviewed the turn-it-in report regarding this paper and am satisfied that I have not made any citations errors that would be considered a form of academic misconduct” Why Youth Become Involved in Gangs Introduction For the past many years, the world has been going through a lot of changes; some changes were for the good, and some for the bad. Youth gangs – what category do they come under – good or bad? Mary Thatcher, a Yahoo!
Voices contributer, says that, “Kids who come from broken homes and have no other place to go for safety may look to a street gang for protection and acceptance” (Thatcher, 2009, Para 3) yet, Rizzo (2003) says, “they interact with other youth in similar circumstances in an effort to upgrade their status in the community and experience the power of intimidation through gang activities” (Rizzo, 2003, Pg. 67). These conflicting arguments would lead any individual astray and abandon them on the fence. To give the final, and critical push, the media comes into play.
Esbensen and Tusinski both focus on this specific topic – youth gangs in the media – and through all their research, they came to the conclusion that, “there was a strong tendency to provide stereotypical depiction of gangs and gang members that promote misperceptions about youth gangs, their members, and their group characteristics. Youth gangs are problematic enough in reality without the media contributing to exaggerations of their attributes that are associated with violence and organizational capacity” (Esbensen & Tuninski, 2007, Pg. 21).
This literature will take a look at the various reasons as to why youth join gangs by targeting several key factors like; what is a gang, how do they join, numerous theories, family involvement, and gang prevention measures. This will all be done through input of a number of learned scholars, official data, and Sandra Bell’s Young Offenders and Youth Justice. Section One: The Background on Youth and Gangs One problem with gangs is that there is no one definition for it; Collins dictionary refers to it as, “a group of people who associate together or act as an organized body, esp. or criminal or illegal purposes” while the Oxford English Dictionary describes it as, “A company of workmen. ” Now, how is one supposed to talk about youth gangs with an absolute answer, when there is no proper and universal definition for it? For the sake of this literature, the former definition shall be used throughout. Handles, tattoos, jargon, symbols, or a specific style of dressing in not uncommon amongst youth gang members; Shelden, Tracy, and Brown (2012) all believe this is what attracts youth to joining gangs.
The sense of inclusion, the fact that everyone is sharing a common goal, and the feeling of some level of structure especially in broken home families bring comfort to the youth (Shelden, Tracy, and Brown, 2012, Pg. 10). This idea will be further developled later on in the literature. A group of people that come together to share a common goal and a group identity is known as a gang; through time, the word gang has become almost synonymous to street gangs, violence and illegal activities.
Generally, gangs have some form of a chain of command with a leader at the top. Youth gang members can share mutual interests such as religion, race, or goals. Youth gangs of course don’t only happen on streets; it is common play for gangs to occur at schoolyards – where various kids first encounter and gravitate toward gangs. Initiations are common when it comes to any individual joining a group or gang; the new guy working security has to do patrols, the new kid in school has to give up his lunch money, and a new youth in a gang has to rob a house.
Scholars have come to nickname initiations as “a kind of “street baptism,” functioning as a rite of passage for the initiate and a rite of solidarity for the gang” (Vigil, 2008, Pg. 149). Most gang members are initiated between the ages of 12 and 13 – playing at the idea that schoolyards are the first point of encounter for kids. “The initiation typically involves several gang members attacking the prospective member at the same time; the initiate is expected to fight back, but cannot show any fear or weakness” (Vigil, 2008, Pg. 53). There are various paths that guide a youth to join gangs, however, they can be recorded. These risk factors can give any parent or guardian an idea of if their child is at risk or not. The Public Safety division of Canada describes a risk factor as a; “life events or experiences that are associated with an increase in problem behaviours, such as drug use or gang activities. For example, being the child of a single-parent who is often absent from the home and lacks adequate support, can be considered a risk factor.
The negative influence of a friend or sibling can be another” (Public Safety Canada, 2007). In regards to youth gangs, these factors can be broken down into five categories; individual characteristics, peer groups, school, family, and community. Public Safety Canada (2007) has broken down each risk factor into multiple flags to look out for. Individual – prior delinquency, drug trafficking, alcohol or drug abuse. Peer groups – street socialization, gang members in class, interaction with delinquent peers.
School – poor school performance, few teacher role models, negative labelling by teachers (labelling theory). Family – broken homes, family members are in gangs (social learning theory), extreme economic deprivation. Community – high crime neighbourhood (social disorganization theory), availability to firearms, feeling unsafe in neighbourhood. According to Public Safety Canada (2007), risk factors present themselves, and explain why many youth join gangs, and these pointers are present long before the youth actually join gangs.
Section 2: Why Youth Choose Gangs over Everything Else Membership with a gang can build status and prestige throughout friend circles; this proves true more so for girls (for boys) (Howell, 1998). Howell (1998) breaks down reasons for why youth join gangs into two parts; pull and push. Pulling would be the attraction to joining a gang and he states in his paper that it provides “chances for excitement by selling drugs and making money” (Howell, 1998, Pg. 5).
Youth gang members see themselves as making sensible choices in joining gangs because it is seen as own benefit to be part of a gang. Push factors would be something that would be out of the youth’s control. For example, “Social, economic, and cultural forces push many adolescents in the direction of gangs” (Howell, 1998, Pg. 5). Howell (1998) cites Baccaglini, Decker, and Van Winkle when he shapes his idea that the (generally) false sense of protection and safety from other gangs are key factors that youth join gangs as well.
Labelling minorities as underclass or lower statuses cause many youth who give into the bullying and name calling and eventually associate their behaviour with the label, and thus join or form gangs to become strong and gain power and authority – this form of thinking is based on Howard Saul Becker’s Labelling Theory. Social relationships and a sense of identity – two very important things in any child’s life, and plays a huge role in mental health of children – are given to those youth that feel neglected; although it may be a negative sense of identity, many youth find it better than none at all.
Many youth that go into juvenile detention centres at early ages or for minor offences are often pitted against those that have committed more serious and dangerous offences. The minor offender learns from the hardcore criminals and eventually forms a criminal mind of their own. Albert Bandura’s Social Learning Theory suggests that people learn various behaviours through observation and constant interaction.
A study done with 258 incarcerated youth males and females in New Mexico showed that gang members had rubbed off on non-gang youth and thus causing them to be “more favourably inclined toward gang activities” (Winfree Jr. , Mays, Vigil-Backstrom, 2006, Pg. 248). Section 3: Out of the Frying Pan and into the Fire This section of the literature focuses on the various reasons as to why youth join gangs from a third person perspective. Dysfunctional families, broken homes, and a lack of proper parenting has been proven to link directly to juvenile delinquency.
Schroeder, Osgood, and Oghia (2010) all agree that “there is a large body of research that shows children from non-intact homes show higher rates of juvenile delinquency than children from intact homes, partially due to weaker parental control and supervision in non-intact homes” (Schroeder, Osgood, and Oghia, 2010, Pg. 579). To escape the problem of weak family ties, youth look toward gangs for support- and why shouldn’t they? They are offered a sense of family, an identity, a goal to work toward, structure, and a pseudo family, all the things that their families cannot offer.
Further research has shown that at a younger age, “marriage or cohabitation is associated with simultaneous increases in offending” (Schroeder, Osgood, and Oghia, 2010, Pg. 586). This phenomenon results in either divorces, or crime to support the family, and the inconsistent housing for children cause them to go into crime as well; mimicking their parents not only causes them to commit crimes, but also to be sucked into a vicious loop of producing offspring who will be more inclined to committing crime as well.
Spohn and Kurtz (2011) both argue that there are two major themes when it comes to young gangs and delinquency – family structure and childhood victimization. They have found in past research that unstable family structures caused by two parent families (i. e. stepfathers, or live-in boyfriends) are more likely to produce aggressive children who show signs of joining gangs before it even takes place. When looked into the details, it was found that single-parent families and intact families can result in child victimization which causes the child to join gangs later on in life (Spohn, Kurtz, 2011, Pg. 344).
Another third person perspective of looking at why youth join gang is Clifford Shaw and Henry McKay’s Social Disorganization Theory where, “the general hypothesis is a low economic status, ethnic heterogeneity, residential mobility, and family disruption lead to community social disorganization, which in turn, increases crime and delinquency rates” (Sampson, and Groves, 1989, Pg. 774). Areas like Jane and Finch, Parkdale, and Greenwood are victims of this theory, and in turn have a high rate of crime. Youth have been in contact with crime so much that it becomes common practice for them, and part of the norm and social routine.
Youth join gangs in such areas because they grow up with that mentality, and it only seems natural to them. School, a safe haven for most, is a breeding ground for delinquent behaviour. Research has been done on friends and their effects on youth crime and this is what has been concluded; “Emperically, it has been established that the single most important predictor of “official” delinquency is delinquent friends, that peer group experiences are predictors of the seriousness of delinquency, and that youth crime is more a function of “companions: than of group behaviour such as gangs” (Bell, 2007, Pg. 08). Bell (2007) also states that a study one in 1996, almost 15% of people interviewed admitted to being part of a group that did risky things. She also claims that the link “between peer relations and youth crime come from variations of Sutherland’s Differential Association Theory” (Bell, 2007, Pg. 209). Section 4: The Underdog Statistics Most people get their information, especially for topics like youth gangs, on television, through news, or word of mouth. What people don’t realize is that media can and do skew the perspective to sell better.
Statistics Canada has reported that 2010 had 56 youth been accused of homicide, compared to the 79 of the year before. It has been shown that since 1996, youth gang prevalence has yo-yoed with a net decrease of 7% in 2010 (Egley Jr. , Howell, 2012, Pg. 2). If youth crime rates, and youth gangs are going down, why does everyone still believe that it is still such a big deal? The answer – news and media. A study was done in California where 214 hours of local television was recorded and content analyzed.
What was found was that over half the stories involved youth crime as gangs and as individuals. The study concluded that “local television new provides extremely limited coverage” (Dorfman, Woodruff, Chavez, and Wallack, 1997, Pg. 1311) and focused only on part of the problem, and emphasized on what would sell rather than not. Movies, video games, music and pop culture play huge roles on whether or not people join, form, or contribute to gangs. Artists like Lil’ Wayne, Snoop Dogg, Rick Ross, and Notorious B. I. G. ause music such as (but not limited to) rap, to promote ‘smoking up, packing gats, popping caps, and hustling with boys. ’ Video games like Grand Theft Auto, where people are walking around in groups, representing gangs, and having territiory wars, promote the sense of gang membership. Adults may find this to be no risk at all, yet the developing mind can soak this information in as normal and further persue it in real life. Multiple movies like Scarface, Mean Streets, and The Departed focus on gangs, drugs, and violence.
As before, an adult may be able to differentiate between movie and reality, but if movies like this are so integrated into society (as they are now), what stops a youth from trying to re-enact that in real life? When the topic of gangs surface, many people think of ‘thugged out’ males; women however, are left out of the equation. In many cases, women’s youth gangs have proven to be quite a handful as well. In 2004, CTV (2004) stated that “swarming girl gangs are a growing criminal problem” (Bell, 2007, Pg. 214) yet, it is not yet being as researched into as it should be.
Chesney-Lind and Shelden (1998) both agree “that mainstream theories and approaches often are ineffective with female juveniles” (Chesney-Lind, and Shelden, 1998, Pg. 134). Through another study done by various scholars, it has been concluded it “indicates that gang girls are involved in a full array of illegal gang activities, although not as frequently as the gang boys” (Esbensen, Deschenses, and Winfree Jr. , 1999, Pg. 29). Esbensen et. al. (1999) also found that in addition to reporting lower levels of self-esteem, female gang members reported more social isolation when it came to family and friends than males in gangs.
Young female gang members become so because on one never changing characteristic – being victimized at home. Joan Moore and John Hagedorn have found that 29% of female gang members were sexually abused at home, and those homes were more likely to have drug users and previous delinquents than those of male gang members (Moore, and Hagedorn, 2001, Pg. 3). Many of the female gang members that were interviewed claimed to have joined gangs to seek protection from abusive families. In 1996 Chicago, violent crimes, and drug offences summed up to 38. % and 37. 7% respectively for female arrestees with gang related charges (Moore, and Hagedorn, 2001, Pg. 5) Section 5: Gang Prevention Finn-Aage Esbensen – a well-recognized scholar in his field – breaks down gang prevention into three parts; primary, secondary and tertiary – all based on how successful these programs have been in their roles. Primary preventions deal with three things; “First, gang formation is not restricted to urban underclass areas. Second, gang members come from a variety of backgrounds.
Third, once juveniles join a gang, they engage in high levels of criminal activity; therefore, it is appropriate to formulate primary gang prevention efforts that target the entire adolescent population” (Esenbensen, 2000, Pg. 6). Secondary focus on areas where “socially disorganized or marginalized communities” (Esenbensen, 2000, Pg. 6) play a huge role in gang membership. Through this, it should focus on risk factors that pose a greater threat toward youth. Tertiary prevention programs focus on very innefective attempts at supressing youth gangs; i. . law enforcement crackdowns – something that does not work in the long run, and is not cost effective (Esenbensen, 2000, Pg. 7).
Esbensen (2000) further goes on to state that to create a proper prevention strategy, one must incorporate all three sectors of prevention. Howell (1998) identifies various solutions to prevent gang involvement at young ages; Gang Resistance Education and Training (G. R. E. A. T. ) is a school based gang prevention curriculum that had great preliminary results. “Students who completed the G. R. E. A. T. rogram reported lower levels of gang affiliation and self-reported delinquency, including drug use, minor offending, property crimes, and crimes against persons” (Howell, 1998, Pg. 13). In a more recent article, Howell states that at risk communities should be investigated and should “identify and target the youth who are at greater risk of joining” (Howell, 2010, Pg. 9). He also focuses on a four step gang prevention and intervention strategy that puts serious and chronic offenders at the top of the list with targeted suppression as a preventive measure.
Below that, gang involved youth with gang intervention as a suggestion. The third spot is occupied by at risk youth with secondary prevention measures, while the least important is every youth in public with primary prevention strategies (Howell, 2010, Pg. 11). The U. S. Department of Justice suggests starting Early Childhood Programs would be beneficial because “once in a gang, those youth who are most behaviourally and socially maladjusted in childhood are most likely to remain in a gang for multiple years” (Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, 2000, Pg. ). Their idea is to snip the problem at the bud. For School-Based Programs, it is stressed that there must be three types of stratagies; “in school safety and control procedures, in school enrichment procedures that make school experiences more meaningful, effective and enjoyable, and formal like to community based programs” (Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, 2000, page 9). Boys and Girls clubs, after-school programs and violence free zones are also methods of preventing youth gangs. Conclusion
There are many personal factors that cause youth to join gangs; some reasons are protection, fun, respect, money, and because a peer or friend was in a gang (Howell, 2010, Pg. 4). The flip side gang involvement is that people are trying to get by, and trying to meet basic needs of living – A typical Strain Theory argument. Youth can join gangs because of dysfunctional, missing or unstable families, it is common practice in the society they live in, or maybe because they learn it in prison from serious offenders. Although it is a major problem in society today, it is none-the-less blown ut of proportion to fit the needs of social media, news, and television – as a result, movies, music, and video games reciprocate what the media shows. Due to popular culture, in middle school students that were surveyed, “more than one-third of the youth who had not been in gangs had gang members as friends, nearly one-third had worn gang colors, nearly one-quarter had hung out with gang members, and one-fifth had flashed gang signs” (Howell, 2000, Pg. 5). Many children are victims and usually join a gang “to escape from broken homes, or to be part of a group” (Thatcher, 2009, Para 1).
Because of popular culture, these innocent children have been labelled as a negative influence and are associated with, “selling drugs, hanging out in the hood, indulging in crime to make a buck, is the norm for these kids” (Thatcher, 2009, Para 1). A question was posed in the beginning of this literature, and after all the data in favour of, and against youth gangs presented in this composition, it would be appropriate for the reader to think about it – Youth gangs – what category do they come under – good or bad? Reference List
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