Youth violence in American society has escalated in an alarming rate. Violence in schools, spree killings, and risk taking behavior seem to have become more commonplace than a decade ago. Most social scientists have pointed out that youth violence is directly related to later criminal behavior, such that a child who has been exposed to violence early in life would seek violence or become involved in criminal activities. One of the most alarming social groups that perpetuate violence is street gangs, and the youth are generally drawn into these gangs.
Gangs had existed since societies were formed and social norms and expectations were required of all members of society. Gangs were first formed as a social group espousing brotherhood and friendship, however, gangs evolved to become anti-social groups involved in crimes such as drug trafficking, selling and manufacturing, murder, assault, and riots. Since most gangs recruit adolescent members, it is important to understand what and why adolescents join gangs. This paper seeks to examine the factors that influence the youth’s decision to join gangs.
Background of the Study The marked increase in youth violence and delinquency was observed two decades ago, at which point membership in gangs had also increased. Youth gangs were prevalent in large urban cities, but at its peak, it made its way even to smaller cities and the more rural areas across the country. Researchers had found a link between the rises of youth gangs to youth violence because gang members have access to guns and other weapons as compared to delinquents.
Another factor considered in the rise of gangs and violence is the increase in drug trade in the area or locality, it is expected that those who deal with illegal drugs have guns, weapons, and have more tendency to commit violence. At present, the number of youth gangs in American society have continued to rise and gain more members (Scott, 1993). Youth gangs had existed even before American society had developed to what it is now, previously, youth gangs were organized in order to serve some social purpose, but with more tendencies for vandalism, fighting with other gangs and establishing their territories.
Gangs had now become the epitome of what is anti-social behavior, thus, gangs are viewed as troublemakers, violent, illegal, unscrupulous, to be feared and woe to the parent who have lost a child to gangs. Many studies had been conducted to explore and understand the dynamics of gangs and gang membership, most had been able to identify the factors associated with gang membership and how gang members behave as well as their organizational structure.
One thing is for sure, gangs are anything but simple, gangs have a complex organizational structure, and studying gangs have not been conclusive to date (Valdez, 2005). Gangs had been difficult to study and understand especially that more people and even the youth know that gangs are negatively perceived in society and that it can be dangerous to join gangs. The difficulty lies in the lack of consensus among researchers and the public as to what is a gang and how it is different from other social groups.
Loosely defined, youth gangs is an organization with a set of leaders and members that are engaged in criminal acts, on the other hand, motorcycle gangs, prison gangs and hate gangs are more hard core, have more structure and hierarchy and are different from youth gangs. Moreover, gangs are more likely to be composed of males rather than females, but there has been a marked increase in the number of female gangs and female members (Valdez, 2005).
The relationship between membership in youth gangs and later criminal behavior had been espoused by a number of researchers and studies. Thus, it would follow that gang membership may predict violent behavior and criminal behavior. At this point, understanding why adolescents want to join youth gangs would help police, parents, schools and the public to make better decisions and provide programs that would keep the youth from joining gangs. This study hopes to explore and understand the factors that influence the youth’s decision to become a member of a youth gang.