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why young people join street gangs


This dissertation will examine and explore the issues of why young people join street gangs. Research has been undertaken on gangs and my dissertation looks at a range of concepts and theories relating to street gangs and young people. Therefore I will be discussing different theoretical explanations about young people and street gangs.

This topic is of great interest to me as I know individuals who have got themselves involved in criminal behaviour, but at a young age we shared the same values. So why are some of us in higher education and working, whilst some of our peers are involved in criminal activity and have criminal records?

This topic of young people and streets gangs is of great interest to me for a number of reasons. Firstly due to my life experiences, as a kid I was raised up in a neighbourhood where street gang activity was present, among Jamaican/Caribbean and Asian members. I have interacted with gang members in my early years and I also know individuals who have been and still are involved in a street gang.

In terms of reference, for this research paper young people are referred to children, teenagers and adolescents. For the purpose of this work young people are those to be aged between 13 and 21.

This paper will focus on street gangs only. The term street gangs in this paper will be referred to a group of youths who form an allegiance, bound together by mutual interests, with identifiable leadership, well- developed lines of authority, and other organisational features, who act in concert to achieve a specific purpose or purposes which include the conduct of illegal and criminal activity and control over a particular territory, facility, or type of enterprise. (Walter Miller 1980:121). They may also have one or more of the following qualities such as sharing a common group name, share common symbols, tattoos, graffiti, style of dress, claim a location and have regular continues gathering.

The concern of young people in gangs is a very popular subject study area in sociology, psychology and criminology and this fits in well with my degree as there is an in creasing number of young people joining street gangs which has raised alarming concerns to the wider public, political parties and to the criminal justice system. The concern of young people in street gangs is alarming due to an increasing report of gang related incidents.

Statistics show that up to 6% of Britain's 10-19 year olds claim to belong to a gang. There has been an 89% increase in the past 5 years in the number of under-16s taken to hospital with serious stab wounds, and a 75% increase among older teenagers. The percentage of school children reporting having carried a knife also showed an increased by more than 50% between 2002 and 2005. The Risk of being a victim of crime is also up from 22% to 23% according to the British crime survey 2008/09. The concern of street gangs is alarming in the United States. Declassified National Gang Assessment 2009 report showed an increase of 36.5% in street and youth gang members sine 2002.

My dissertation will involve looking at vast majority of theories to why young people join street gangs. I will be looking at psychological, criminological, sociological theories and other school of thoughts so I can explore and evaluate their ideas and concepts as different school of thoughts have different views. I will be using books like Criminal behaviour by Elaine Cassel, Douglas A. Bernstein and Critical issues in crime and justice by Albert R. Roberts to explain theories.

For example Criminologist Edwin H. Sutherland for instance developed the idea that criminal behaviour is learned and that it is learned through the process of "differential association." Sunderland believed that people learned and adopted values and behaviours of other people, especially people whom they had known for long and had frequent contact with over a long period of time. He suggested that if other people were held in a high regard, this would have also impacted on weather his or her values and behaviours were adopted by the individual. For example if the individual's father was involved in a gang and used violent behaviour it is possible that the individual would have adopted the same attributes as it is his/her farther.

On the other hand Psychologist Neil Ribner believes that the primary reason why young people join street gangs is so that they can ultimately feel, and proclaim with passion, “I am some body!”. He explains that young people who join groups no longer feel alienated or demoralized and they feel much better about them selves. For this reason he explains this is why it is so difficult to get young people out of any group that is powerful and passionate. They would not leave as they feel so much better about them selves.

Abraham Maslow (1998) described that weather a gang is legal or illegal; members join for the same reasons which are rooted in the five basic human needs. Maslow describes these as physiological needs, the need for safety, the need for love / belongingness, the need for self esteem, and the need to feel that one has potential to reach specific goals (self-actualization). Maslow basically indicated they all want security of being able to be identified with a group and find solidarity through the group membership. (Critical issues in crime and justice by Albert r. Roberts). And there are those people that “follow the crowd” in doing things they would never do on their own (prentice- Dunn & Rogers, 1989).

There are many theories on why young people are involved in street gangs, some however consider it to be related to genes. Kevin Beaver, a biosocial criminologist from Florida State University (FSU) states that latest study released on June 5th 2009 shows that a low level Allele activity of the Monoamine Oxidase (MAO-A) gene in young men, both increased likelihood of joining a gang and to a greater tendency to use weapons and violence. Kevin Beaver states “For the first time, we were able to establish a direct connection between the MAO-A gene and the choosing of a violent lifestyle”.

For my dissertation I will be undertaking a variety of research from secondary to primary sources. I will be undertaking secondary research from a wide range of books, articles, journals, publications and home office reports which would help to write up this dissertation.

The advantage of using secondary research is that there is a variety of literate on young people and street gangs that is available for me to use. For the purpose of theories and background information there are a variety of books available from educated professional who would provide me with an enormous wealth of information including facts, figures and opinions.

For my secondary research I would also use visual and audio recorded interviews of ex-gang members who have shared their life experiences as being in a gang. This will be done by attending events and gatherings where ex-gang members share their life stories with youths about the danger of that life style.

This can help me to understand gangs and the reasons why some choose to enter or exit gangs. Secondary research will help me to analyse existing information and help me to explore certain areas in depth.

My primary research would include interviewing real gang members who are present in a gang or have experience of being in a gang. To do this I have decided to get in touch with gang members from the United States of America. The reason for this is because not only America has very high levels of gang related violence compared to the UK but it also has an increasing rate of gangs and gang memberships. The media also portrays American gang culture as glamorous in the American movies and rap/hip-hop music videos, which often results in young people trying to adopt the life style as they see it as cool.

So by interviewing gang members from America, this would help me to see how gang life really is and why they have chosen to take part in gang membership. The interviews with the gang members from America would be done through online conference call, webcam or email etc and all ethical procedures will be considered such as keeping their identity private as they would not wish to be identified as they are gang members.

I would also get in touch with youth centres that deal with young people and gang members. I will try to talk to members of staff, asking questions about the subject matter of young people in gangs. The information gained will be written and baring in mind all ethical procedures will be taken into account such as health and safety for participants involved, keeping questions short, simple, to the point, as individuals will be busy themselves. The reason I have decided to choose these methods of research is because I believe that it is a very good way to find the results I am looking for and it would help me with my evaluation throughout.

History of youth street gangs

The issue of young people joining street gangs has indeed raised concern to adults and peer groups due to the unbearable violence and behaviour reported in the media and witnessed in communities. As I have mentioned previously in the UK and in the United States, statistics show that the level of street gang activity is on an increase. The phenomenon of street gangs is not new and street gangs do come from a long history.

Street gangs have been in existence for many centuries. During the 17th century street gangs were common in Great Briton, but little was known about them due to the lack of coherent research at the time. During the 17th century, church and court records did identify the presence of youth street gangs in England, Germany, France and Switzerland (Gillis, 1974, Klein, 1995, Sheldon et al. 1997).

The lack of coherent research on these street gangs meant that the names given to these groups were of a distinctly local character such as street Arabs, roughs and hooligans. The gangs in question were often territorially distinct groups that emerged from the impoverished working class neighbourhoods near the city center. They often engaged in violent clashes with neighbouring gangs and used a wide range of weapons (ibid. 108 and 188).

In North America, during the 18th and 19th century the growth of street gang activity resulted from such events, like the industrial revolution and the migration of European settlers. Street gang activity grew out of the class structured society based on ethnicity and racial distinctions. The industrial revolution and immigration was responsible for forming slum conditions and poverty in a class structured society. This was creating hardship and distress, and for many, joining a gang became a source of identity, social status, and economic survival in these dire conditions (Decker & Van Winkle, 1996).

Soon after, the first American criminal street gangs were reported. (Goldstein, 1991). In the early 1800's street gangs such as the Fly Boys and Lo ng Bridge Boys existed.

These early gangs were not involved extensively in criminal activity but were rather mischievous and predatory groups (Valdez, 2000).

The first criminal street gang to be recognized in the United States was known as the forty thieves, formed in 1820. This was an Irish American street gang based in New York that rebelled against those who showed low social status and prejudice towards Irish immigrants. The gang engaged in criminal acts as a form of revolution to relieve their frustration as well as for profit. This later developed more Irish gangs in the area and the growth of rivalries and turf wars began to emerge.

Soon near the 19th century a number of gangs appeared throughout the United States. This included Chinese gangs that were developed in California, rebelling against poor treated Chinese people in the rail way industry. In the city, the first gang activity that had been reported was in 1840 and by 1870 the city stated over 100 active street gangs were present.

At this point New York remained the ‘hotspot' of street gang activity with the presence of many other gangs such as the African American, Jewish, Italian and Irish street gang being reported in 1865 ( Valdez, 2000). These were the first gangs that were established in the face of poverty, squalid conditions, and great prejudice.

However, by the 20th century new types of street gangs began to form. There gangs focused on the economic differences than class distinction due to ethnicity. As the economy fell into the great depression, gang development, activity and violence increased across America. This resulted in the development of Mexican and west coast African American gangs in los Angeles, Chicago, Detroit and Boston.

However it did not stop there, soon after the Second World War, new types of gangs began to appear across America such as motorcycle and prison gangs. Violence, gang membership and proliferation have indeed increased since the early years, and up to the current situation every American state is now holding claim to street gang ownership. (Valdez, 2000).

“Nearly every nationality is represented in America gang history'' (Haskins 1974,p.7).


The problem of street gang activity however is not as easy to recognize. This is largely due to many differing definitions of what makes a gang and various methods of identifying gang members. So estimates of the actual number of street gangs and gang members in the United States fluctuate due to this. Nevertheless the U.S National Gang Center (2005) statistics illustrates the scope of the problem.

A study by the U.S National Youth Gang Center (2005) identified 21,500 street gangs throughout America in 2002, which made up of 731,500 gang members. This study showed that every city with a population of 150,000 or more reported the presence of active youth gangs. The same was held for 87 percent of cities with populations between 100,000 and 250,000.

In the following year, the National Youth Gang Center (2006) report, estimated figures of active street gang membership up to 785,000. Followed by the most recent (NYGC) 2009 study, yearly estimates of the total number of youth gangs from 1996 to 2007 averaged around 26,000. The survey reported a yearly decline in the number of gangs from 1996 over 30,000 to a low 20,000 in 2003. But according to the survey, figures have been steadily rising in the recent years.

The most recent NYGC (2009) annual survey it estimates the period 2007 with over a figure of 25,000 gangs. The survey also indicates that the larger cities and suburb areas remain the primary locations of youth gangs accounting for over 60 percent nationwide. Smaller cities estimate one third of gangs and rural areas under 6 percent.

Distribution of Gangs by Area Type, 2007 Pie Chart


National Youth Gang Center (2009). National Youth Gang Survey Analysis.

In the United States the level of gang activity has shown alarming rates over the past years. The problem of street gangs is found in all most all fifty states. It is also reported that majority of the violence is committed by youth gang members (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2001).

In the late 1970's miller estimated that 83 percent of the largest cities had street gang problems as did 27 percent of cities with a population of 100,000 or more and 13 percent of cities with populations of 10,000 or more (W, Miller 1982, chaps. 2,3). Howell (2006), in an analysis of the National Youth Gang Surveys, reports that four of the 10 largest US cities reported an average of 10 gang related homicides in 2002-2003.

What is more worrying than the actual numbers of street gangs is the rate of their growth. Walter Miller (1982) conducted a national survey estimating 700 to 3000 street gangs in existence in the largest cities in the U.S. Howell, (1998) had stated estimates of more than 30,000 gangs with over 800,000 members.

The increasing number of gangs and memberships reported also reflected from the figures of the U.S cities that reported gang involvement. The figures reported 54 gangs in 1961 to 94 in 1970, 172 in 1980, and 766 in 1992; Klein, 1993), as well as the increasing rate of violence linked to gang activity. The National Youth Gang Center survey analysis (2009), estimated an annual total number of 775,000 gang members in the 12 year survey. As well as that, recent National Gang Assessment (2009) report also showed an increase of 36.5 percent in street and youth gang members since 2002. An increase in criminal gang activity was also reported by 58 percent of law enforcement agencies and a 13% rise since 2004.

Estimated Number of Gang Members, 1996-2007 Bar Chart


National Youth Gang Center (2009). National Youth Gang Survey Analysis.

Moreover a recent study by the National Drug Threat Survey (NDTS) 2008, indicates that gang influence over drug trafficking in the United States is stable or increasing slightly. (NDTS) 2008 data shows that 58 percent of the state and local law enforcement agencies throughout America reported street gangs were active in drug trafficking in their areas. The data showed a 55 percent increase from 2006 and by 2007 it grew to 58 percent and this stayed stable since 2007. NDTS data also showed that the figures from drug trafficking by street gangs remained stable from 2006 (35%) to 2007 (36%) to 2008 (36%).

However these gang figures presented are estimates from the law enforcement agencies and as Petersen (2004) cautioned, these figures may be over or underestimated, as they are estimates. When referring to figures on street gangs and gang membership in the United States, it is very difficult to gather accurate figures for many reasons. Firstly gangs do not keep official records of their membership. Everyday, gangs are shaping in different sizes with members joining and leaving on a regular basis. Some people however may not have gang membership but do hang out with gang members, which raises the question, is that person a member? It is also important to note that when a police officer asks a gang member are you in a gang, chances are the answer would be no, as the individual would know police take known gang membership seriously. Some youths however may claim to have gang membership around other teens to seem tough and gangs could also fake membership figures to make their gang seem more powerful than others. So it is appropriate to say that police department's reports on gang statistics are not always reported accurately. Police fighting gang violence can be presented with exaggerated gang numbers to give departments motivation while some departments may deny having gang problems at all to appease the public. This for these very reasons the problem of street gangs could be more than estimated.

Generally it is assumed that young people belonging to gangs seem to be much more violent compared to youths who are not in gangs ( Klein, 1995). Youths who join gangs from minor criminal activity, move toward more violent criminal involvement (Elliott & Menard, 1993).

However, as there is little disbelief of the rapid growth of numbers of gangs and gang membership since the mid eighties, the relationship with increased violence is less certain. Some gangs can be linked with a tremendous amount of violence at a certain period of time. For example, in 1995, 790 gang homicides were reported in Los Angeles County with an estimate of 1,142 identified street gangs present (Block, 1995).

Yet, suburban gangs are linked with relatively little violent crime which is unclear, whether increases in homicide in youths are due to increased gang members, drug trafficking, weapons or a growth in youth violence nationwide ( Goldstein et. al., 1994: Klein, 1993). Such questions are unclear in this period of time but many current gang writers view street gang problem in America as large and growing.


The problem of street gangs is not unique to American cities. The United Kingdom likewise shares the same problem but on a much lower scale compared to the United States.

Research from the New Adam program (2003) estimated that in Manchester alone there were over 1,000 people involved in gangs (Shropshire and McFarquhar, 2003). It was also reported in the same survey that the UK average age of becoming involved in a gang was dropping. In 2004 the program estimated 20,000 active gang members aged 18 or over (Bennett & Holloway 2004)

In 2006 the Home office reported almost half a million gang members regularly breaking the law and intimidating their communities. Many young people were reported taking illegal drugs, carryings weapons, vandalising property, frightening people passing by and being involved in serious violence. The study also showed that more than one third had committed at least one serious offence over the previous year. These offences included the theft of a car or hard drugs, assault, mugging and burglary. It was also reported that one in eight had carried a knife and one in 100 had carried a gun. The study showed that 4 in 10 gang members said they had threatened or frightened other people, 29 percent had used violence or force and 36 percent had written graffiti and 31 percent took part in vandalizing property. From the study it was also known that the average street gang around fifteen members.

However in recent reports it is estimated that there are 50,000 teenagers in gangs in Britain today (Sky news, Tom Parmenter, 2009). A study by Professor John Pitts of the University of Bedfordshire also found in his research that showed that 40% of young people in parts of London were "reluctant gangsters" and had no criminal record what so ever. He also reported from his studies that some of these children were scared of leaving a gang or disagreeing with its aim as they feared that the gang would use violence on them (Dominic Casciani Home affairs reporter, BBC News 2007).

Moreover the problem of street gang violence seems to on a steady increase from previous years. For instance, according to statistics from the Centre for Social Justice ( 2007), up to 6% of Britain's 10-19 year olds claim to belong to a gang. There has been an 89% increase in the past 5 years in the number of under-16s taken to hospital with serious stab wounds, and a 75% increase among older teenagers. The percentage of school children reporting having carried a knife also showed an increased by more than 50% between 2002 and 2005.

The Risk of being a victim of crime is also up from 22% to 23% according to the British crime survey 2008/09. It is also reported that in Manchester and Liverpool around 60% of shootings are gang-related and half of the 27 murders of young people perpetrated by other young people in London were also gang related (2007). Police say just over 100 young people are involved in gangs in the L11 postcode area in Liverpool.

As well as that, there have been reports of 257 crime linked street gangs in London alone but these figures are not recognised by the Metropolitan Police. The reason for this is due to the fact that gangs constantly change, rename them selves, form or break up, so it is very difficult to place a number. For this very reason the number of street gangs can be lower or higher than expected.

However the problem of street gangs is not as bad as in America, where the culture of gangs in the cities like Los Angeles and Boston are much more violent. Gang membership in these cities can run into the thousands, with widespread violence with neighboring territories.

Then again, the problem of street gangs in the UK may not be as bad as compared to America but the increasing number of violence and steady rise in membership reported indicates the direction of travel.

From research

Female Street Gangs

The presence of female gang membership can be found in the early 19th century (Valdez, 2000). Other researchers have reported that female gang activity has been documented since the early 1920s (Thrasher 1927/1963, Asbury, 1927).

Historically, most researchers believe that ten percent of all gang members are female. Many researchers have viewed female gangs as poor imitations of male gangs, but are very capable of committing violent criminal acts, but not in the same proportion as males' (Delaney, 2006, p.227).

Female gang members are found to be actively involved in violent acts such as fighting and holding important roles and position in their gangs than being simple “sex objects” (Miller, 2002).

The National Gang Threat Assessment (2005), notes that there is a continues role in young females in gangs, assisting in the movement of drugs, weapons, and gathering intelligence from other gangs ( p.v). Most often females assist the male gang, serving as decoys for rival gang members, as lookouts during acts of crimes or as carriers of weapons when a gang war is impending. They are also known for carrying information in and out of prisons and provide sexual favours as they are often drug dependent and physically abused by male gang members. Although the number of female gangs is increasing, gangs are still predominately male. Female gangs have been around for nearly as long as male gangs, most of them remain auxiliary to male gangs.

Over the past years the study of female street gangs has become increasingly more important due to the rising numbers in female gang membership in the United States. The scope of the problem of female gangs however is not as easy to recognize. The reason for this is because not only it is difficult to identify gang members as explained in the previous chapter, but figures of female gang memberships stated by official data sources are not as accurate as gangs break up and form every day, (Curry, Ball, and Fox, 1994). What also complicates matters is the fact that female gang members can be involved in several types of gangs which could include mixed gangs of male and females, auxiliary gangs, where female gangs are affiliated with male gangs and independent female gangs (Miller, 1975).

However to get a rough idea of how bad the situation is of female gang members, the National Youth Gang Survey (1996-2000) reported that 94 percent of street gang members in the United States were identified as males and 6 percent females. 39 percent of all youth gangs were also reported to have female memberships.

In another study by the National Gang Threat Assessment (2005), it reported a continues role in young females in gangs, assisting in the movement of drugs and weapons, and gathering intelligence from other gangs ( p.v).

In recent reports from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (2008), reported that 32.4 percent of boys and 29.4 percent of girls in high risk crime neighbourhoods claimed to have gang membership. A review of research on girl gangs show that some young women find themselves trapped in horrible social conditions “ characterized by widespread poverty and racism “( Shelden et al., p.174). While the most common age at which girls enter gangs is 11 or 12, with the prime age of initiation occurring between ages 13 and 14, Eghigian and Kirby (p.48) note: “it is not unheard of for girls to slide into gang involvement as early as age 8. Those who enter at this age and up to 10 years of age often have relatives who are gang members or have experienced a strong gang presence in their neighbourhoods.”

There is a general consensus that exists in the research literature explaining that girls join gang life for the same reasons as their male counterparts, to meet basic human needs such as belonging/being a member of a family, self esteem and protection (Shelden et al.. p.175).

Females join to fulfil social, personal and emotional needs which they lack from in their own homes due to abuse and or dysfunctional. (Chesney-Lind, 1993).

One theory which is similar to the strain theory of delinquency, explains that females from the lower class tend to join a gang to fulfil and achieve middle class goals in the absence of legitimate means to do so. In order to achieve and get by in their social and economic situation, they turn to the illegitimate means of gang activity (Rosenbaum, 1996).

In the UK, the literature on gangs, especially girl gangs is less developed as in the united states. However According to the metropolitican police (2009), in london alone 174 gangs have been identified where as only 3 of which were all female. As this is a very small figure of female gangs yet a report from the home office (2009) recently suggested that crimes commited by 10 years old girls has increased by 25% over the past three years and by 2008, 15,000 violent crimes were reported to be carried out by young women.

The metropolitican police (2008) declare that they don't know much about this growing social phenomenon. The police department stated that “the actual number could be much greater than this; it is based purely on police intelligence.”

The culture of Street gangs in the UK and in America were mainly seen as a male preserve but not any more as stastics and reports indicate a rise in female involvement in street gangs. In the UK female street gang incidents are currently being reported on the tv, an example of how bad the situation of female gangs is in the UK is by looking at the incidents over the past years. In 2008 police in Brixham reported a gang fight of up to 30 girls from the age of 12, with knives and other weapons. As well as that, in Stratford in London a 17 year old female gang ring leader and a 16 year old girl were put behind bars for brutally attacking a 16 year old girl, giving the reason that she disrespected the 17 year olds mother. What is also shocking is that it was reported that the 16 year old attacker while detained in a young offender's institution had remarked heartlessly that they should have got her raped by a male.

In England and Wales the concern on female gangs has got the attention of a wider audience. In 2002 the chairman of the youth justice board in England and Wales, also expressed the issue that young females were being used by male gang members for sexual services, hiding weapons and drugs.

The number of girls in gangs has skyrocketed, not just in inner cities, but in suburban areas. They join gangs for the same reasons males do: friendship, a sense of belonging and security. And they run the very same, unglamourous risks: prison time, drug addiction, injury or death (Dunham, 1995, p. 52).

The impact of Street Gangs

As mentioned previously, street gangs have been present for many years but the effect it has on society is usually negative. Although some people may create a gang for the purpose to be safe from violence but however this safety is usually done by acts of crime. One of the reasons that gangs cause a big threat is because crime plays a big role in gangs. Innocent people can be caught up getting injured or even killed through turf wars, drive by shooting or even a theft of an auto.

Gang members take part in all form of criminal activity, weather it is for personal or economic gain, revenge or hate. Examples of crimes that are committed by street gangs are rape, murder, fraud, assault, theft, arson, home invasions, prostitution, public disorder, armed robbery and the trade and use of weapons/ drugs (Huff, 1998; Thornberry et al., 2003).

Some activities also include property damage including graffiti which is seen to be the first sign of a gang's presence in a community. Gang graffiti is not only advertises the gang's presence but it is a sign of claiming a territory. Gang activity not only causes fear to people but the outcome results of gang activity also costs a lot of money to Governments. For example, according to the Princes Trust survey (2010), in the UK the average estimated cost associated to youth crime committed is £1 billion a year. Los Angeles is described to have 516 homicides in the city in 2003. Of the 516 homicides, 41 percent were gang related, costing the city nearly $875 million per homicide. Intangible costs covered the quality of life issues, such as revenue loss due to fear of crime or declining property values, and are estimated at more than $2.16 million per homicide, plus the costs also cover rape, robbery and aggravated assault (Collins p .12).

Street gang crimes can cause a tremendous amount of damage to families, children, businesses, and society together. Due to the activities and crimes they commit, this puts fear into people which can mean that neighbourhoods with gangs would see less activity of innocent people as they would be too scared to come out of their houses in fear that they could be attacked, mugged, or even caught in a cross fire. Business that are located in areas where gangs are present could also mean that people would be afraid to shop there due to gang presence and this could also result in the business not making any money and even result in closing down. Businesses would relocate in another area which that could result in less jobs for people livining in isolated neighbourhoods. Areas that are known to be affected with violence would also drop down the value of properties and businesses. This would also affect children growing up in the neighbourhood as they would see joining a gang as the only way to survive. The more gang violence there is in a neighbourhood the more membership there would be in children because in fear of safety they would want to be protected by a gang. This would mean that there would be more illegal trade and violence of gangs with children growing up in a gang cycle neighbourhood.

Gangs are known to compete with other gangs, trying to be the toughest to protect their neighbourhoods from violence. This however is done through violent behaviour so that but unfortunately rivalry does not stop but continues with a motive of revenge. Gangs have also evolved in weapon use over years, from hands, feet and knives to automatic rifles, machine guns, and even pipe bombs in some cases ( Landre, miler, and porter 8).

Parents and families fear and stress for their children's safety as they grow and develop. In the news youths are mainly displayed as ‘bad mannered' or criminals. They are generally stereotyped in the media which is one reason adults tend to fear youths out in the streets. For example the media portrays youths that wear a hoodie as either a thug or a criminal. If for example a group of youths are in the streets, automatically people would view them as a gang of deviant individuals up to no good, even if they are just standing and talking to one another. One of the problems is that the media also glorifies gang, in the movies, games and music videos. Some children take membership just because they think its cool to be part of a gang and to dress like them which gives them the motive to commit a criminal act just like the media portrays it.

Street gangs are a major threat to society, not only they are seen as death traps by researchers and families but they often affect and destroy the lives of many people. Individuals that take membership however may not join for the wrong reasons but still cause destruction to the society.

A few things that causes concern to communities with gang presence, is prison, death, money, and sex by gang members. The reason for this is because firstly a gang member that goes to prison often return as a much hardened criminal as prisons have growing gangs members. Going to prison or doing time in a youth facility is however considered part of a gang members life cycle (Shakur, 1993, Howell, 2006). For a gang member to be send to prison, not only affects the gang it self but the family of the gang member also. The fear that the gang may cause much more violent behaviour due to revenge and the family of the gang member in prison may also feel threatened that rival gang members harm them as a means for revenge. Death of a gang member also causes fear to the community as gangs members could take revenge and cause much more violence in the neighbourhood which could resulty in innocent people getting cought in the cross fire and children joining gangs.

Fear of gangs

Gang Membership

This chapter will explore the lives of real gang members explaining why they have chosen to take membership. The chapter will include interviews of three existing gang members from one of the toughest street gangs in America, known as the Crips. This would then be followed by exploring the life of one such individual who changed his life around from gang violence. Overall this chapter would help to explore some of the main reasons and issues of why they have taken membership and it would also explain from a members point of view why today's children are falling into the same lifestyle. The chapter would also cover the concerns and issues of gang member's views on what can be done to solve the problem of gang violence.

As mentioned previously, gang membership is at an alarming rate in the U.S compared to the UK. A study by the U.S National Youth Gang Center (2007) reported a total figure of 26,000 street gangs throughout America from 1996 to 2007, which made up of 731,500 gang members. Compared to the UK, the total estimate of young people in street gangs averaged around 50,000 members in Britain (Sky news, Tom Parmenter, 2009). In 2004 Britain was estimated to have 20,000 active gang members aged 18 or over (Bennett & Holloway 2004). Compared to the United States, Britain's gang problem may not be as bad, but as explained above figures of active gang members are steady rising. So the question is raised, why are young people joining gangs?

To find out why young people are joining gangs I took forward interviews of 3 gang members from the Crips gang in the United States, which is known for its revelry with the bloods gang. The reason why this gang had been chosen was because not only it was well recognized by American and UK youths but it had been present for many years.

Crips Gang background

The Crips Gang was originated in Los Angeles, California in the late 1960s. Since the 1970's the crips have grown into sets to other parts of Los Angeles County, with their individual gang name such as Comptop Ave Crips, and Harbor City Crips etc. Members of this gangs range between the ages of 12 to 24 and represent them selves with the letter BK which stands for blood killers. They are identified with the colour blue and usually wear a blue bandanna to represent them selves, as they rivalry the bloods who identity them selves with red bandannas. The Crips memembers are found to be usually black but whites and Hipanics are also involved in crip sets in other parts of the U.S.

Here is an example of some of the Crip sets in Los Angeles


Conducted: 8th-10th January 2010 through online conference.

All members that took part in the interview did not wish to share their identity due to personal reasons, so for this very reason each members is labelled with the letters A,B and C.

The interviews that were taken forward involved asking the same questions to each gang member to compare and contract their responses in order to find any resemblances for their reason to join. All members that participated were also over the age of 18.

The first Crip member e.g. (Member A.) interviewed, described him self as a surviving rolling 20 O.G. Crip member, in other words, a Crip member from the rolling 20 set. The question that was put forward to all members was: “how did you get involved into the gang life?”

Gang member A. response:

“I was banged ( jumped in), in which I held my own. The reason I was introduced to this life style was due to the lack of a father figure in the home. The next thing to a father in the ghetto was a slick hustler aka drug dealer. My father is still alive but at the time he was strung out on crack cocaine, this story is the story of many young gang members. I was exposed to the Crip lifestyle by G's visiting the east coast at a army base in Fayetteville N.C aka (The Nam). There were two brothers born into the rolling 20 Crip family the first real cuz. I was brung to them because I stood out from the rest, my size, my intellect and my position amongst the other kids my age. Thats all it took and the rest is history, this lifestyle has almost cost me my life several times and it cost my brother his life. R.I.P " Lucky" he was 19 years old and he was shot by someone in my own set, my cousin matter a fact. Over a stripper dumb shit, that's what helped me change my life for the most part. Cause once a G always a G.”

Gang member B. response:



Gang member C, response:

“i have comme out and i try to use my knowledge in the right way, i'm not a Crip but they are ma favorit gang, ma crew is Tha Green's. I joined the gang to do some skills that can't do alone.. in tha gang life if you're not able to plan ya will be part of other plans, if ya know yo orders are not respected ya apply those of others, it is not so easy to leave a gang if you're not enough respected !

All three gang members were further asked on the situation about what can be done to help today's youths from joining gangs and they replied with the following:

Gang member A. response:

“The only way we can help the youth is target entertainment, I know that as long as rappers make being in gangs cool it will never go away. We need more youth centers in the neighborhood's and we need more respect in the family structure far as father and mother in the house raising these kids instead kids raising kids. There is alot of things that need to be done my G. And everytime I get a chance to talk to a child I do though.”

Gang member B. response:


“I think parents should become more involved and try to get their kids, what their doing, their where abouts and who they are with. The education about things starts at home. There are plenty of after school activies such as sports and mentoring programs kids for youth. I feel that more police would do more harm than good. I think alot of kids joion gangs for the wrong reasons. Some do it maybe bacause of what they see on TV, others cause they think its cool, but along not knowing the real reason it was originated. It was really originated to stop viloence in the streets.”

Gang member C. response:

“I think that young people turn to tha street gang to gain tha esteem of others, have a role within an organization and especially when ya have a legal cassia and nobody wants to accept ya the only road that remains to show yo skills that the gang, must don't forget that the esteem of the people is an essential need in Maslow's pyramid.”

“can be a success for tha young people i was with them but no a success for me! ma nature is not satisfied with tha resources that i provides for him or the results it produces, i am spirited to force his hand ! ya follow me .”

From the responses given in the interview, there is a similar pattern on issues with all three members on their reasons on membership. Member A, for instance, suffers from a lack of father figure and the closest thing to a father figure was a hustler in the neighbourhood. We also learn from him that gaining respect/ status and self esteem is also one of the reasons individuals receive from membership which could be one of the reasons they stay in the gang. As he had mentioned he also had two brothers in the gang which means there is a sense of family recruitment, where individuals are introduced to gang memberships through family ties. Member B, also seems to have a dysfunctional family as he recalled himself not receiving the love and need from his parents. His mother who he mentioned was on hooked on ‘cracc', as he was growing up and his father was hustling with other women and not paying any attention to him. He also mentioned that he grew up in a neighbourhood surrounded by different gangs and when turfs wars struck he chose to take the side of his gang then his family, which also gave him respect and status for his activities. Here we can see that member B, also has the same needs as member A, which is gaining respect and status and having that sense of belonging, Member C, however is a ex member of “Tha Green's” gang but likes the Crips street gang also stated that he joined the gang for gaining money and respect.

When asked about what their thoughts were about what could be done to overcome the problem of todays youths joining gangs, members stressed that families need to have a better and positive structure on giving the basic needs to their children. As member A, stated kids are raising kids, parents need to shown them love and educate them and the neighbourhoods also needed much more legitimate resources to help children develop and stay out of the streets. The media was also blamed by the members, as rap videos and movies glamorise the culture of gangs.

Moreover to explore other reasons and issues on why people join street gangs, I came across an individual who lived most of his life around gang activity and managed to change his life around. It was impossible to get an interview from him, but luckily he was invited to take tours in parts of the UK such as London and Bradford where I got a chance to listen to his story on why he had taken part in gang activity and the reasons and how he had changed his life around.

Mutah beal, a former rap artist was raised among violence, drugs and murder. Like many African Americans in the U.S, he was born in a suburban area with his parents and family. Unfortunately at the age of three he witnessed his parent's murder by his godfather and he also claimed that his brother committed suicide. Soon after, Mutah and his two brothers moved in with his grandparents in Irvington, New Jersey where a lot of criminal activity was present, such as selling drugs, stealing cars etc. As he grew older, he clamed that he would hang around in the streets with friends and relatives ‘just like every other kid did in the city'. He ended up dropping out of school and relied on making some money by rapping in neighbourhood parties. He claimed that he didn't have much of a home life either as he spent most of his time with friends in the streets, where he also began selling drugs as he was in need for money.

However as he became more successful in rapping, he was introduced to one of his family friends, who was also a rap artist. When he hurd about the story of the death of Mutah's parents he decided to help him by raising him up in another neighbourhood and making him a successful rapper.

As years went by, Mutah worked on his music career but unfortunately the people around him were also involved in gang rivalry, drugs, violence and guns. This made him a lot of enemies just because he was hanging around with them people, so to be protected he stayed with the group. The main reason he stayed with them was because they treated him like family, they cared for him and provided him with safety as he was younger then them. The safety that was provided was that on the streets the group would hang out together with weapons. He also described some of the activities that they got involved in such as, using drugs, getting drunk, fighting and guns battles. When such acts were performed it was said the level of respect was gained from individuals within the group. He also described himself at that time as being very angry and dangerous, where as if a fight broke out he said no 1 will dare to stop him. The reason why he felt so angry was because the gang life resulted in two of his group members murdered in a drive by shooting. He mentioned that he was always unhappy with what life had brought him and the only way to calm him self down was to make him self numb, by taking drugs and getting drunk. Gang life made him so scared that where ever he went he carried his gun and he also described the situation as ‘so bad' that he had to sleep with the gun under his pillow.

He had overcome the violence and gang lifestyle by moving into another neighbourhood, starting a new life and keeping away from negative people. As he had learned, in the gang life revenge never stops.

He explained that in order for children to stay away from the streets, parents need to raise children up correctly and give them all the love and support they need. As he was raised without his parents this could explain why he had gotten into the streets. Most children that receive less attention from their family tend to commit crime ( Magginis, Robert L.). He also mentioned that children need to go to schools, get an education and have good friends in order to stay away from the streets.

From Mutah's experiences we can learn that some people cannot escape gang activity as children, as sometimes you can walk into it without even knowing. Many youths like Mutah see being apart of a gang as protection from others which also relates to the needs and wants from the 3 Crip members interviewed.

Knowing that these individuals joined membership to receive the basic human needs, I will now explore this issue of why young people young street gangs by looking at it at psychological and criminological prospective.


This section tempts to explain gang development by looking at criminological and psychological theories.

Criminological Theories

The Social Disorganization Theory

This theory originated with Thrasher (1927) who believed that gangs developed through the effort of boys to create them selves a society where their needs would be met. Young people turn to gang membership to obtain the satisfaction of life and rewards, that families, communities and schools fail to provide (Goldstein, 1991). Gang membership is seen as an alternative path as they lack the social bond with personal and community institutions. It is not seen as abnormal, but rather a normal response to an abnormal social situations (Spergel, 1995).

Shaw & McKay (1941) are also well known social disorganization theorists that studied official FBI statistics and topographic maps to explain gang formation. From their study, it was explained that gang formation and delinquency occurred in areas around the city centre generally where there were less social bonds among people living in the same community. They found that residents in high crime neighbourhoods had to a large degree abandoned the fundamental values and norms. The ecological factors that lead to crime in theses neighbourhoods were due to continued elevated levels of high school dropouts, unemployment, deteriorating infrastructures, and single parent families. The local institutions that were too weak to provide a sense of community resulted in a replacement in conventional values with the subculture of criminal values and traditions. This theory also tries to explain that gang memberships and criminal activity is due to the social disorganization of the community and not the characteristics of an individual (Shoemaker, 1996).

So according to the social disorganization theory, a breakdown or a lack of traditional intuitions of social control, such as families, school systems and local businesses, increases the levels in gang membership, antisocial or criminal behaviour (Shaw and McKay 1941). 36

Strain Theory

The strain theory has its roots in the works of Emile Durkhelm (1858- 1917) and his concept of anomie. He believed that anomie resulted when social change threw behavioural norms into a flux, leading to a weakening of social controls and an increase in deviant behaviour.

Robert K. Merton expanded on Durkheim's ideas in his own theory of strain. He believed that the result of gang membership and delinquency is due to frustration felt by individuals who cannot reach their financial and personal goals through legitimate means. Strain theory assumes that all young people have similar economic goals such as having wealth, success and power but many citizens do not have access to legitimate resources to achieve their goals. For examples people that do not have access to education or training necessary for financial success often results in frustration and anger, or strain. So, in order to achieve their goals with out legitimate resources, young people turn to illegitimate resources to achieve them (Goldstein, 1991).

In the U.S culture the most important goal is not only to get rich but to get rich as possible. Although society establishes the goals for some people, social structure blocks achieving them which results in creating a strain that leads to criminal acts by the lower class.

In American culture, the only approved means to get successfully rich is by hard work, honesty, education and delayed gratification. Merton pointed out that not every one can get rich but the culture tries to keep control by emphasizing, “its not whether you win, its how you play the game that counts”. But some times the goal becomes more important than the approved means of achieving it: “its not how you play the game that counts, its whether you win that counts”. This is what Merton saw in the American culture and which seem to lead on young people to reach their goals by any means necessary..

Merton explains that the lower classes fall hard into the strain as the social structure stands in the way of success. In the upper classes it takes only moderate talent and effort to achieve success by work ethic but the reason why the lower classes have much more level of high crime rates is due to the reason that lies in the social structure. Such as the lower class do not get their fair share of opportunities to get rich by hard work. For this reason individuals turn to gang memberships to achieve their goals through illegitimate means.

However in the 1990s, Robert Agnew of Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, argued on Merton's study that from all ‘strained' individuals, only a very few turn to crime to relieve the strain. He believed that criminal acts can be possible considering other factors added to the strain.

Subculture Theory

The subculture theory of delinquency and gang development grew out of the strain theory and is based on the assumption that all youth share similar goals and economic targets. But however, the difference about the subculture theory is that, lower class youth replace their middle class goals with their own, new, subculture goals. These goals involve mainly bravery and fighting which are suitable to a criminal lifestyle, achieving recognition (Williams & McShane, 1999).

The work of Albert Cohen (1955), asserts that every one has the same goals but the lower class do not have the opportunity to achieve these goals. He views the formation of gangs as frustrated boys who are trying to achieve middle class standards but are not equipped to meet. Individuals resolve status concerns by turning to a gang to set up their own system that provides status for their gang membership and behaviour (Williams & McShane, 1999).

The work of Miller (1958), suggested that society has different social groups with different subcultures. Miller used the concept of focal concerns as important aspects in the subculture. This meant that these values naturally lead individuals to high level of gang involvement and crime. He identified six focal concerns that the lower class would gain attention from. These six focal concerns are fate, autonomy, smartness, toughness, excitement and trouble. These six points defined life for lower class boys. Getting into trouble and staying out of trouble is a daily concern fro them as trouble could mean status or prison.

Labelling Theory

This theory argues that behaviour is only deviant if it is labelled. In another words individuals are not criminals until they have been labelled a criminal by society. By labelling an individual a ‘gang member', this would only give the individual a primary identity or master status. This would mean that once the individual is labelled with this identity, the individual will consider them selves as a gang member and nothing else. This would further result in them taking forward a stereotypical role as a gang member as society has labels them (Williams & McShane, 1999).

Underclass Theory

The underclass is described as a social class that is below the lower class. Meaning that the people in this class find it very difficult to find employment as it is neither available nor reachable due to isolated conditions of the neighbourhood. Underclass are also affected with poor schooling and having poor information of job networks (Miller, 1958; Cohen,1969; Wilson, 1991).

The underclass theory was developed by Charles Murray (1990) which explained the situation of individuals that were dependant on the welfare state. Murray argues that the welfare benefits help to create culture of dependency which draws some people into the underclass position. He argued that welfare should be avoided as it gave a negative impact on the economy and it encouraged people to relay on benefits than looking for work. He stressed that the underclass should take responsibility to do something about the situation as dependency leads to further levels of poverty and unemployment.

Murray believed that an over generous welfare system is the result for the increase in single parent families, which is one of the key factors for the cause of crime and gang memberships. He believes that single parent families have a lack of discipline and young males are running wild due to this. Young people without employment are resulting to drugs and crime which are straining lives of many neighbourhoods as these values are passed on to younger males. Murray gives the idea that benefits should be taken away from single parent families and those who cannot afford to look after their families should also give their babies up for adoption to save them from joining membership as they get older as people join for wealth. He also argued that some single parents should try to take up any job to survive. Murrays thinks this as a solution to develop the underclass as they would take responsibility. The main focus of Murray and his followers is that they believe the root of the problem is not the cultural acceptance of unemployment, inadequate state assistance or other economic factors, but unmarried motherhood (Blaikie 1996, p. 118).

However, Murray's work was criticised by Alan Deacon who pointed out that there are so many so called illegitimate children that live with their parents and single parent status is present in every classes not just in the underclass.

Wilsons version of the underclass theory, suggest that those groups in socially isolated neighbourhoods that have few legitimate employment opportunities, inadequate job information networks and poor schools not only give rise to weak labour force attachment but also raise the likelihood that people will turn to illegal or deviant activities for income'' (ibid., p. 472). Wilson does not primarily address the underclass situation to the problem of gang formation but indicates that it is one of the several problems that explain the basis for gang development.

The underclass theory is quite similar to the strain theory but it is more elaborated. It considers gang involvement and crime as a natural response created by the structural divestment. This limits the positive cultural and social opportunities with a range of problems (Miller, 1958, Cohen, 1969).

Control Theory

The Social control theory is quite interesting as it assumes that most people would commit crimes if they had the chance. The theory considers that everyone has the propensity to become involved in criminal behaviour and that deviance is a natural part of human experience. The theory tries to explain the reason why some people do not get involved in gang activity, which is simply due to a having stronger bond with the moral order. It is the social ties, bonds and attachments that prevent people from doing this.

Hirschi, argues that delinquent acts result when an individuals bond to society is weak or broken' (1969:16). These bonds include:

1. Attachment:

The stronger the bonds with family, friends and peer groups the better positive role models and good companionship one would have.

2. Opportunity:

The more one perceives legitimate opportunity, the greater advantages of conformity. A young person with a bond with a university with good career prospects has a high stake in conformity.

3. Involvement:

extensive involvement in legitimate activities such as holding a job, attending a school, club, or pushing hobbies, inhabits deviance. People that have less activity, usually ‘hang out' have time and energy for deviant activity.

4. Belief:

Having a strong belief in general values of society and respect for authority figures would reduce acts of deviance. By contrast, people with a weak conscience are more vulnerable to temptation. (Hirschi, 1969; Williams & McShane, 1999).

So it is suggested that individuals that engage in gangs and criminal behaviour, is simply due to the fact that they have weak social bonds with family, schools, community or other social structures (Hirschi, 1969).

Gottfredson and Hirschi (1990) agreed that individuals with high self control will be substantially less likely at all periods of life to engage in criminal acts' ibid. : 89). Numerous studies also showed a link with delinquency to poor parental supervision, excessive parental drinking, poor parental discipline, less support and affection by parents and similar issues Goldstein (1991)..

Walter Reckless describes the control theory by having this idea that the reason why most people do not act deviant is because they have various restraints which stop them from doing so. He describes these restraints as internal and outer controls. Internal controls include, conscience, morality, values, integrity, and the desire to be a good person, and the outer controls include, police, family, friends and religious authorities. It was also noted by Travis Hirschi that these inner and outer restraints form self control in a person, which prevents them from acting against the social norms. Self control is developed by proper socialization especially in childhood. Lack of self control in child would mean that he/she is likely to grow up with deviant behaviors and committing criminal acts.

Differential Association Theory

According to Criminologist Edwin Sutherland (1939), differential association theory explains the idea that people learn the necessary techniques, motives and drives of deviant behaviour from people with whom they associate with. He suggested that if one had high status, this would have also impacted on weather his or her values and behaviours were adopted by the another individual. For example if the individual's father was involved in a gang and used violent behaviour it is possible that the child would have adopted the same attributes as it is his/her farther.

Donald Cressey (1978) also agrees that criminal behaviour and activity is rather learned through the process of interaction with other people, especially within intimate social groups, such as ones family and peer groups.

Gang involvement is more likely to occur when a person has frequent, intense, and long lasting interactions with others who violate the law. Individuals tend to learn towards or away from crime depending on the beliefs and norms of the people they socialize with (Williams & McShane, 1999).

Edwin Sutherland coined the phrase differential association to address the issue of how people learn deviance. According to this theory, the environment plays a major role in deciding which norms people learn to violate. Specifically, people within a particular reference group provide norms of conformity and deviance, and thus heavily influence the way other people look at the world, including how they react. People also learn their norms from various socializing agents—parents, teachers, ministers, family, friends, co-workers, and the media. In short, people learn criminal behavior, like other behaviors, from their interactions with others, especially in intimate groups.

The differential-association theory applies to many types of deviant behavior. For example, street gangs provide an environment in which young people learn to become criminals. These gangs define themselves as countercultural and glorify violence, retaliation, and crime as means to achieving social status. Gang members learn to be deviant as they embrace and conform to their gang's norms.

Differential-association theory has contributed to the field of criminology in its focus on the developmental nature of criminality.

According to the study of Decker and Van Winkle (1996), interviews from gang members showed that 29% of members claimed that they took membership because they friend or relative was in the gang. As Sunderland and other theorist reported, having some one close such as a friend or a relative in a gang can naturally drive an individual into the gang just because they socialize together.

There are many theories on why young people are involved in street gangs, some however consider it to be related to genes. Kevin Beaver, a biosocial criminologist from Florida State University (FSU) states that latest study released on June 5th 2009 shows that a low level Allele activity of the Monoamine Oxidase (MAO-A) gene in young men, both increased likelihood of joining a gang and to a greater tendency to use weapons and violence. Kevin Beaver states “For the first time, we were able to establish a direct connection between the MAO-A gene and the choosing of a violent lifestyle”.

Psychological Theories

The Social Learning Theory tries to explain how individuals learn criminal attitudes and behaviours. This theory expands on the work of Sutherland's and Cressey's ideas (1978).

Ronald Akers (1985) who is one of the influential social learning theorists strongly believes that human behaviour is driven by searching for pleasure and keeping a way from pain. If a criminal act results in material or social reinforcements, weather it be money, jewellery or gang acceptance, the individual will continue to repeat the criminal act if the reward outweighs punishment (Williams & McShane, 1999).

It explains the idea that deviant behaviour is learned by observing deviant behaviour in others (Bandura, 2001). This can be learned through watching the actions and behaviours of those individuals that are in their surroundings.

It is also possible that youth living in a community with a strong gang presence will have interactions with gang members throughout their daily activities. These actions are said to aid in the formation of beliefs and attitudes about behaviour that get these youth to actually become part of a gang.

To learn behaviour, social learning theory combines learning principles witch cognitive processes, socialization, and modelling. It is also suggested that victims of violence during childhood are likely to become violent them selves in the future (Murrell. Christoff, and Hennine. 2007.

Social learning theorists predict that people that grow up in nonaggressive cultures will them selves be non aggressive. As they would not be influenced or have anyone that would condition their minds to response to deviant behaviour. Those that are raised in a culture with aggressive models and heros will most likely learn aggressive responses ( Bandura, 2001). Gang culture in practised by a majority and the levels or membership is on an increase due to the surrounding of gang members, and glamorized culture of gang life.

Bare in mind that America has become one of the violent of all countries with a violent crime occurred every 23 seconds during 2005 (FBI, 2005). Approximately 40 percent of its population owns firearms and nationally 70 percent agree that when a boy is growing up, it is very important for him to have a few fist fights. This shows that children and adult are treated to an almost non stop parade of aggressive models, in the media as well in actual behaviour.

Moreover Bandura believes that children learn how to behave from others whose behaviours they model and imitate through direct, face to face interaction or by observing others or symbolically in literature, films, televisions, music and videos games.

An example of learned behaviour from the media can be described by the two teens that were obbessed with the movie scream and scream 2, which were convicted of murder. The two teen were reported that they had stabbed their victim 45 times with four knives and a screwdriver just like in the movies, where their victims were knifed by killers that were obsessed with horror movies.

Following the premier of juice, a movie about four African American juveniles who get involved in a robbery that ends in murder, violence broke out at theatres across the country. IN Chicago, a 16 year old was shot and killed by a stray bullet from a fight between two boys waiting for tickets to the last show. In Philadelphia, an 18 year old was paralyzed from the chest down after he was shot coming out of the movie, in new York City, a 16 year old was stabbed in a theatre during a quarrel with another teenager.

This shows that people can learn behaviours from what they see and experience.

Social Development Theory

This theory integrates the social learning theory with the control/ bonding theory.

It outlines the major cause of delinquency to a lack of bonding with family, school and social peer groups coupled with the reinforcement of delinquent behaviour. This theory outlines the processes by which bonding and behaviour evolve. Development

Recognizing the importance of development, the theory outlines specific models for each developmental period during childhood and adolescence (preschool, elementary school, middle school, and high school).

Within each model are research-driven risk and protective factors that lead either down a path that encourages antisocial behaviour or down a path that encourages prosocial behaviour.

The central tenants of social development theory are the opportunity for involvement in the bonding process, possessing the skills necessary to perform competently in family, school, and prosocial peer settings, and reinforcements for using those skills in the settings. The probability of becoming involved in delinquent behaviour in any of the four developmental periods is dependant on the degree to which the opportunities for bonding, possession of skills, and reinforcements are adequate, available, and prosocial (Hawkins, 1998).

The social development theory outlines the general processes by which bonding and behaviour evolve

Hyperadolescence Theory

Hyper adolescence theory tries to explain the difference between a

typical adolescent teenager and an adolescent teenager who is involved in a gang. This theory finds out that individuals that are affiliated with a gang are hyper adolescents, meaning that they show the same needs and beaviours as other adolescents but to a greater extent.

Adolecents are known to share the same types of characteristics such as searching for status, challenging authority, striving for independence and having a concern with self esteem. But what is most important to all adolesents is to gain identity. According to Goldstein (1991), hyper adolescents (or gang members) were found to be more at risk to peer pressure and were more active in searching for a adult status, and taking on opinions of peers into their developing sense of self.

Goldstein further affirms that gang membership provides hyper adolescents with status opportunities which cannot be attained from any other peer groups. These enchancing opportunites include delinquent and violent behaviour which gains members higher status depending on the activities they take forward.

The theory outlines that gangs in general are characterized by a set of criteria (social categorization, social reward, interdependence, interaction, and influence)

Members of more cohesive groups are more likely to be influenced by other group members, to place greater value of the group's goals, to be more active and equal participants in discussions, to be less influenced by members leaving the group, to be absent less often, and to remain in the group for a longer period of time (Goldstein, 1991).

Research has illustrated a positive relationship between group cohesiveness and delinquency in that gangs are more likely to be engaged in violent activity when the status and solidarity of their gang is threatened (Thornberry et al, 1993; Jansyn, 1966).

Abraham Maslow (1998) described that weather a gang is legal or illegal; members join for the same reasons which are rooted in the five basic human needs. Maslow describes these as physiological needs, the need for safety, the need for love / belongingness, the need for self esteem, and the need to feel that one has potential to +reach specific goals (self-actualization). Maslow basically indicated they all want security of being able to be identified with a group and find solidarity through the group membership. (Critical issues in crime and justice by Albert r. Roberts). And there are those people that “follow the crowd” in doing things they would never do on their own (prentice- Dunn & Rogers, 1989).


According to psychologist Abraham Maslow (1998), weather a gang is illegal or legal members all join for the same reason. Maslow describes this as basic human needs that need to be met.

These include physiological needs, the need for safety, the need for being loved/ belongingness, the need for self esteem and the need to feel that one has potential to reach specific goals. Individuals going gangs for the basic elements to receive love, protection and security from the group. When an individual does not receive the basic needs from the family, individuals spend more time and effort with the gang to receive the basic human needs. The street gang becomes more like a social family than just friends. Members are recruited from their natural family and the gang takes over the functions of their primary family because members not only treat them like family but will protect their members and their activities at a high extent.

According to maslow once people begin to satidy their need, to belong, they want to be held in esteem both by them selves and by other. This produces such satisfactions as power, status, prestige and self condifence. The need for self actualization, is considered the highest need according to maslow as it is the desire to become what one is capable of becomingand to maximize one potential and to accomplish some thing.

As maslow has described, the reason why young people turn to street gangs is that families do not meet the needs of their children. This could be due to dysfunctional homes, abuse or single parent families where the individual does not have a father figure to look up to. Individuals accepted in gangs receive identity and recognition which is often done through gang sign tattoos, a certain dress code and a given name. For example in the United States street gangs such as the crips, identify them selves by wearing blue colours and their rivals known as the bloods in red. This is followed along tattoos and gang signs they make by they hands and by graffiti.

According to freud human nature is inherently antisocial. Due to the influence influence of the id, he describes that infant's start life with antisocial drives. As infants grow and develop they confront social rules to which are expected to abide by. Thus they must give up the primitive drivesof instant gratification, unbridled sexuality, and unrestrained aggression. Children developa superego from experience and from role models such as parents and siblings that guides them along the path of appropriate behaviour. Ego development halps children negotiate id demands for instant gratification with superego demands against such behaviour. Any problem or trauma that upsets the development of the ego or superego can increase the risk of delinquency and crime.

On the other hand Psychologist Neil Ribner believes that the primary reason why young people join street gangs is so that they can ultimately feel, and proclaim with passion, “I am some body!”. He explains that young people who join groups no longer feel alienated or demoralized and they feel much better about them selves. For this reason he explains this is why it is so difficult to get young people out of any group that is powerful and passionate. They would not leave as they feel so much better about them selves.


In the UK the Leeds youth offending service is one of many organisations that work with young people that have been involved in criminal activities and deviant behaviour. This youth offending service deals with children form the early ages of 8 and above. The service aims to help young people and their families to challenge and prevent offending in the future by providing support and help.

In order to prevent reoffending, it provides a range of programs and projects that try to help offenders to change their lifestyles. For example it provides educational programs, training, employment and mental health sessions including misuse of substances and anger management. The service also focuses on targeting the needs of individuals so that it can help them to fulfil their needs in a non violent way.

One of the many successful methods that it uses is the surveillance and supervision program which monitors young people to help them not to reoffend. The program helps to put things right for youths by providing educational sessions and projects and activities such as working in charity shops, undertaking environmental clean up work and helping people with disabilities etc. This method helps to provide opportunities for young people and reduce the fear of crime and antisocial behaviour in the public.

This surveillance and supervision program in Leeds is known to be one of the largest in the country, which has had over 150 young people starting the program in 2005. In 2005/06 it was reported to be one of the most successful programs with 64 percent of young people completing the program.

The youth offending service also helps to tackle young people carrying weapons by holding awareness group sessions that helps to explore the risks involved in carrying a weapon. As evidence suggests, many young people carry knives for their own protection but in some circumstances, rather than protection they risk the knife being turned upon them.

From latest figures (2010) in Leeds the level of youth crime has shown an 8 percent fall from last year and also a 4 percent decrease in the numbers of young people who reoffend. Aswell as that, the leeds youth offending service also reported from the D'Fuse Anger Management Programme that helping young men and women keeping their cool, showed that offending rates were decreasing.

But as well as that the Suffolk youth offending service formed in 1999, is quite unique in its own way. It works with young people who have been involved in criminal activity and deivent behaviour, but the work team at this organisation are from a variety of different backgrounds that can really have a positive impact on youths. For example, staff backgrounds include police officers, education officers, social workers, accommodation officers, drugs and alcohol advisors and probation officers.

As children and young people offend for a variety of reasons, whether it is social or family problems or peer group pressure, young people need advice from people with knowledge and skill. So by having professional experienced staff in different fields of work they can help young people by assisting them to make the right choices in life.

This youth service is committed in working together with staff from different agencies and professions, sharing knowledge, experience and skills to reduce offending. This multi agency approach is to help make Suffolk a safer place and improve the life opportunities for young people so that they can live a life without offending.

An example of an individual who had a positive impact by this youth service is one such individual known as jack who completed a six month referral order after being involved with in a gang of youths in stealing a car and driving without a licence or insurance.

After taking part in his referral order, attending sessions relating to victim awearness, peer pressure and work on motoring and the law he was asked what he had learned and he stated the following:

"I have found this order very very eye opening. Through the order I have learnt so much and I have matured so much through it.

The motering and the law was very good and made me think of victims and I could put myself in their shoes which I never used to be able to do. I defenetly think about other peoples feelings and I think I am more of a kinder more caring person and a good person to speak to because of the order I have learned all of these things.

I have been telling my freinds about it and getting all the consequences in their heads so me and my freinds haven't got in any trouble at all since my offence. It has even made me think about a career in youth offending team because so many kids my age are thinking the same way I am so I could explain it in a way they would understand and listen because I know what they have gone through" (2004 Suffolk youth offending service)

There are many methods adopted to tackle gang membership and related behaviors. The UK government however has introduced the Policing and Crime Act (2009). This act gives more power to authorities to tackle gang activities such as it would give the court power to enable a range of restriction on a gang member that could involve not wearing gang colours, not entering a specific area or not being able to meet with other gang members. This act can also require the gang member to attend sessions to remove them from the gang life style.

One such successful program is The Tackling Gangs Action Programme (TGAP) which was taken forward in 2007 -08). This programme focused on gangs in four areas in the UK that had reported to have an increasing number of violence such as, London, Birmingham, Liverpool and Manchester

From the period of 2007 to 2008 these areas reported a decrease of 51% in firearms related injuries and a 27% drop in all recorded firearm offences. It was also reported by communities in those areas that they were more aware of police activity which resulted in increased public confidence.

Weapons are one of the sources of security that gang members use, in order to get rid of weapons and gangs off the streets the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary launched the Tackling Knives Action Programme (TKAP) in 2008. This program outlines to tackle UK gangs by:

Tackling the supply of weapons such as guns and ammunition for criminals Reducing the level of glamour of gang membership and the use of weapons

Transforming deprived neighbourhoods

Increasing the confidence and supporting communities affected by gang violence

Encouraging witnesses to come forward and give evidence/ information to authorities

Providing funds to support projects and opportunities to tackle neighbourhood gangs

Encouraging effective partnership working and information sharing

Another step forward to reduce youth criminal activity and an antisocial behaviour was announced by the government on the 16th September 2008 BBC news where substantial funding of £56.5m was said to be used to prevent crime in communities across England.

The government noticed from previous figures and evidence that incarnating young offenders wasn't much of an effective way to help them to turn away from the life of crime.

As offenders were released it was reported that a majority of them returned by committing much more serious offences. Due to this the government decided to put a step forward and try to focus on the cause of the offences rather than the crime itself. The £56.5m is planned to fund 69 local authority areas in every corner of England. It plans to offer more after school patrols and street based teams to tackle young people in criminal activity.

This new crime action plan by the government focused on the following key measures:

* Using safeguarding laws to remove young people at risk from the streets at night.

* Building street-based teams of youth workers and ex-gang members to tackle groups of young people involved in crime and disorder.

* Increasing visible police patrols during after-school hours.

* Expandingfamily intervention projects to respond more effectively to families at risk.

* Providing positive activities for young people.

* Placing youth offending team workers in police stations so that young offenders can be dealt with and directed to the most appropriate service at the earliest opportunity.

Furthermore 20 local authorities were also said to be getting an extra £100,000 in 2008, to expand family intervention projects. This money would help local areas tackle youth crime, by addressing both the causes of offending and offering the right support to help young people get their lives back on track.

Youth gang crime is a big issue that harms communities and creates a culture of fear and damages the lives of some of our most vulnerable young children. Reducing youth crime and improving the youth justice system is a central part to build safer communities and to tackle the problem of social exclusion. According to the home office website, some of the major risk factors that increase the chances of young children committing crimes are by having:

* A troubled home life

* poor attainment at school, truancy and school exclusion

* drug or alcohol misuse and mental illness

* deprivation such as poor housing or homelessness

* peer group pressure

There are so many different methods and action plans that are have been put into place to help stop young people to commit crimes and not to get caught on to the path of crime. Social problems are seen as high risk factors in increasing the chances of young people committing crimes. To control and reduce the risk factors, a number of programs have been introduced.

These programs are the following:

Sure start is a centre that has a program which aims to improve the community's health and well being by providing child care services to families in disadvantaged areas. Disadvantaged areas are areas where gang crime is common because of disadvantages that they face in the area which could be for example the issue of money. So by providing this program to improve the communities health and well being is something that the community can look up to and help raise up their children with ease so that they have a better and positive future.

Connexions is a centre that provides support and advice to young developing people to improve their behavior and reduce truancy. This is an effected centre that a majority of young drop outs attend for advice and support. For example young people that do not attend schools or colleges end up getting the help of getting a job so that they can keep out of trouble and make a better future for them selves.

Neighborhood Renewal aims to improve community services in areas that struggle economically. Poor places tend to have more violence as people commit thefts and murder etc this is why programs like these are created so that it could stop people from gang involvement.

Youth offending teams are also an important part of strategy to deal with youth gang crime.

Youth offending teams include representatives from the police, social services, health, education and housing. Their duty is to identify the needs of each young offender and identify the problems that increase young people to offend.

This enables the Youth offending team to identify suitable programs to address the needs of young people, so that they rehabilitate, through:

* Education, training or employment

* Drug rehabilitation

* Mental health assessment and treatment

* Provision of accommodation

In the United States one method that is introduced to tackle gang involvement is focus on educating people.

The G.R.E.A.T program is a school based law enforcement officer instructed classroom curriculum which focuses on prevention as its primary objective. The program uses a communitywide approach to tackle the risk factors that involve young people into gang involvement and other related behaviours.

Its goal is to help young people to turn away from youth violence, gang membership and delinquency. It provides lessons on life skills helping young people to avoid gang involvement and other related behaviours.

The curriculum is developed by experienced law enforcement officers and specialists in criminology, sociology, psychology, education, health. It provides lessons to students to practise positive behaviours that will remain with them throughout their developing years.

The G.R.E.A.T program went nationwide in 1992 and is currently delivered in over 500 communities across the U.S.

These action plans that have been created across the UK and the United States are much more effective to reduce gang membership and gang related behaviors as these strategies help to identify major riskfactors that increase the chances of youth involvement in gang activity. These strategies not only try to prevent developing children from violent crimes and delinquent behaviors but also help youths to help their turn their lives around from gang involvement. These strategies focus on educating young people and showing them options and opportunities rather then incarcerating them.


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