Over the course of history, gangs have been noted to be the cause of much of the violence occurring in certain neighborhoods. Professionals involved in different sectors of society have become concerned with the growing impact these groups have not only on the individuals that comprise them but also on society in general. (Ramsey et al, 297) It has been observed that levels of delinquency among youth skyrocket after they become gang members and decrease considerably after they exit the group.
(Gordon et al, 85) Academicians have found it necessary to study and research the different factors that may lead to an individual’s membership in a gang and how to prevent this from happening. This paper aims to summarize the different findings of such research. Gangs have been defined as a collection of individuals who have promised allegiance to one another and have named this allegiance with the purpose of elevating their status, via the formed group, through criminal activities. (Struyk, 11)
The most basic reason for individuals to participate in gangs is the fact that society has failed to provide for the basic needs of these individuals, specifically the youth. Conditions of poverty and lack of opportunities to improve this situation lead individuals to participate in gangs instead. In adolescents, a sense of belonging is derived from gang membership. Rejection from peers has proven to be very important in adolescents and being accepted into a setting that provides a family-like atmosphere increases their self-esteem and gives them a sense of acceptance.
(Wolf and Huffman, 19-22; Esbensen and Dischenes, 799-800; Hixon, 2121) Most gang members are usually part of neighborhoods wherein gangs and gang violence is rampant. Becoming a member of a gang protects an individual from the violence that is fast overtaking their community. (Esbensen and Dischenes, 800; Hixon, 2121) “Gang membership is driven in part by the function of street gangs. Gangs are perceived as a source of protection in a violent world” (Hixon, 2121) Having an older sibling who is also a member of the gang gives a young individual a greater tendency to participate in gang activities.
Among gang members, it has been noted that males and females differ in the reasons for joining gangs. Self-esteem, for example is a good example of this. For individuals with high self-esteem, females have less inclination to join a gang but males have a higher tendency to join. The factor of isolation also has different effects on individuals. Males who feel isolated will tend to shy away from gang activity whereas on females, isolation does not play a significant role in determining gang participation.
Surprisingly, attachment to their mothers affected whether males would join a gang or not but did not affect females with their decision on the same matter. Also, contrary to popular belief, risk seeking was found to be a good predictor of female gang membership but not of male gang membership. (Esbensen and Dischenes, 799-838) Different gang intervention programs have been conceptualize and implemented over time in the hopes of lessening and perhaps even eradicating one of the most dangerous social groups present on the streets today. One of these programs is the Gang Resistance and Training (GREAT) Program.
The program aimed to prevent gang by helping individuals set goals for themselves, resist peer pressure, resolve conflicts, and understand how gangs can affect the quality of their lives. Research showed that individuals attitudes towards gangs and gang-related activities changed after participating in the GREAT program. However, the difference between GREAT and non-GREAT program participants was significantly less than would be desired. This indicates that there is still a need for further research to be conducted as to how best to prevent gangs. (Ramsey et al, 297)
It has been seen that intervention programs are ineffective due to lack of consistency and inability to address the issues involved. An initial question, however, is who should be involved in the fight against gang activity and violence? Police and law enforcement agencies are not the only societal groups that must try to prevent gangs from occurring. Other government agencies, businesses and employers, schools, community groups, religious institutions, health care facilities, social service agencies, volunteer agencies, and the families of the gang members should all be involved in a united coalition to prevent gangs.
(Wood and Huffman, 19-22) Intervention programs that aim to prevent gang involvement should take into consideration several different factors. It has been seen that parenting skill classes, gun safety information courses, tattoo removal programs, and emergency response team lead to a lessening of gang activities. Mothers Against Gangs, Cops in the Classroom programs, evening sports programs are examples of interventions that proved successful in lessening gang involvement. (Hixon, 2121) Prevention techniques should take into consideration the factors seen to increase gang membership.
Understanding the underlying factors for gang formation are an important aspect of developing prevention programs. It is important for intervention groups to understand that the individuals involved in the groups are simply making up for the lack they found in society by establishing for themselves a group to provide their needs for them. (Hixon, 2121; Wood and Huffman, 22; Esbensen and Dischenes, 801) Studies have been conducted in the hopes of providing the groups involved in gang prevention with indicators of gang membership.
Individuals who are suddenly more focused on wearing a certain color of clothing are deemed to have a higher tendency of being part of a gang. The wearing of a color that represents their gang is highly important to gang members as a means of identification to their group. The sporting of a tattoo is also common among gang members. Also, sudden increase in antisocial behavior indicates possible gang involvement. Performances in school-related activities also tend to drop for students who have involved themselves in gangs. (Struyk, 12-13; Dishion et al, 70)
It is clear from the literature about gang participation and gang activities that concern about these groups has increased. Intervention programs have been developed but these require more modifications in order for them to be even more effective. Gangs are antisocial groups that provide their members with needs that were not met by society. They go about with the satisfaction of these needs through criminal acts and as such, all of society should be involved in the prevention of these groups and their antisocial behavior.
There is still much to be done in terms of gathering knowledge about gangs, however, the first steps have been taken and measures are well underway to prevent gangs from occurring for good.
Dishion, Thomas J. , Nelson, Sarah E. , and Yasui, Miwa. “Predicting early adolescent gang involvement from middle school adaptation” Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psycholgoy 34 (2005): 62-73 Esbensen, Finn-Aage, and Dischenes, Elizabeth. “A multisite examination of youth gang membership: does gender matter? ” Criminology 36 (1998): 799-283 Gordon, Rachel A. , Lahey, Benjamin B. , Kawai, Eriko, Loeber Rolf.
“Antisocial behavior and youth gang membership: selection and socialization”Criminology42 (2004): 55-89 Hixon, Allen L. “Preventing street gang violence”American Family Physician 59 (1999): 2121 Ramsey, Alison L. , Rust, James O. , and Sobel Susan M. “Evaluation of the Gang Resistance and Training (GREAT) Program: a school-based prevention program” Education 124 (2003): 297 Struyk, Ruth. “Gangs in our school’s: identifying gang indicators in our school population” The Clearing House 80 (2006): 11-13 Wood, Sherree F. , and Huffman, Jane B. “Preventing gang activity and violence in schools” Contemporary Education 71 (1999): 19-25