1.Explain the current status, historical growth, and projected trends of gang membership in the United States and locally.
2. Describe current research on gang formation and the implications for society and community, local and national.
3. Identify and classify the types of gangs common in various geographical or societal communities.
Gang membership continues to rise across the United States. The youths are the most affected since gang culture has a strong allure. Recent research indicates that youths are likely to enter gang membership starting from as early as age 12. Contrary to popular belief that only males are at significant risk of joining gangs, even females have a higher chance of joining gangs. The current rise in gang membership is an emerging threat to having peaceful neighborhoods. In addition, high gang activity in a given region contributes to decline in education standards. Gangs function as complex criminal networks that are involved in different forms of crimes. At all times, gangs aim at extending their dominance as well as the geographical regions under their control. This may at times result in clashes with other rival gangs over territory. This study examines gangs, gang membership in the United States, and provides recommendations on how the community may tackle the growing problem.
Current status, historical growth, and projected trends of gang membership in the U.S.
In the recent past, there has been a tremendous increase in the number of gangs across the United States. The increase in the number of gangs has seen a corresponding increase in gang-related violence. The various types of active gangs include prison gangs, motorcycle gangs, and violent street gangs. Each of these gangs have become more sophisticated and highly organized to prevent detection by law enforcement agencies (In Maxson, 2014). The common factor among all gangs is that they use violence to earn money and control territories. Gangs are likely to engage in various illegal activities such as drug trafficking, human trafficking, prostitution, robbery, murder, gun trafficking, and others. Gang members are likely to continue with illegal activities even when they end up in prison. Gangs are increasing adopting the application of modern technology, such as the use of social media to recruit new members.
The number of gangs has significantly increased since the dawn of the new century. In the years leading to the new century, the United States experienced a significant reduction in the number of gangs as well as gang membership (“National Gang Center (NGC)”, 2012). In 1996, there were 30,800 reported gangs in the United States. The number of gangs decreased significantly up to 2003, with record-lows of 20,100 gangs. Since then, however, the number of gangs has been on a constant rise. In 2005, estimated gangs were 26,700 (“NGC”, 2012). This figure increased to 27,300 in 2007 and to 29,400 in 2010. In 2012, estimated criminal gangs were 30700, and in 2015, the estimated number of criminal gangs had reached a record high 33,000 (“Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)”, 2015). The total membership corresponding to this high number of gangs is 1.4 million members. The increasing number of gangs and gang-membership is a serious concern to law enforcement authorities.
Projections indicate that the overall number of gangs as well as gang-membership is likely to increase in the future. Currently, gangs are expanding to rural and suburban areas where they had little or no presence a few years ago. It is worth noting that most of the gangs have traditionally based their operations in the densely populated metropolitan areas. As these gangs expand in rural and suburban areas, they are likely to face resistance from smaller gangs and the residents in these areas. This will likely increase the number of violent crimes in such areas. For instance, drive-by shootings, assaults, murders, and other forms of crime are likely to increase.
Gangs are highly concentrated in large cities followed by smaller counties. Statistics indicate that about 41.6 percent of gangs operate in large cities. About 27.1 percent of gangs operate in smaller cities while about 25.8 percent are in the suburban counties Center (“NGC”, 2012). The rural counties have the lowest number of gangs. Majority of gang-related homicides are occur in large cities with populations of over 100,000 people. Projections indicate that gang-related homicides are likely to experience a 5% annual increase in the coming years. This is because of the increase in the number of gangs as well as gang-related violence.
Current research on gang information and the implications for society and community, local and national
Current research has sought to untangle mysteries surrounding gang membership. Pyrooz and Sweeten (2015) conduct a study to investigate issues relating to gang membership among young people aged 5 to 17 years. The study examines the age-specific patterns relating to joining and exiting gangs. In addition, the study examines gang-membership from a racial/ethnic perspective. The study utilizes a sample of 7,335 youths and relies on self-reporting method of collecting data about gang membership. The results indicate that black males from single-parent households were more likely to enter gangs. Hispanic males from single-parent households were also at increased risk of joining gangs (Pyrooz & Sweeten, 2015). The defining characteristics of most youths from single-parent households were high poverty levels. In terms of age, the youths had an average gang-membership prevalence rate of 2%, which peaked at 14 years to about 5%. Gangs have a high turnover rate of about 36%, with 401,000 youths joining gangs each year and an almost similar figure (378,000) leaving gangs each year.
Pyrooz and Sweeten (2015) contravenes popular opinion that gangs mainly comprise of Black and Hispanic males. Although statistics indicate there is a higher chance of joining gangs for Black and Hispanic males, the study shows that there are a high number of Whites and females involved in gangs. This study has several implications. First, poverty levels have a strong influence on youths in joining criminal gangs. The state and national governments should aim at economic policies that can help in reducing unemployment rates. The second implication is that law enforcement officials should widen their fight against criminal behavior to include whites and females. In the past, law enforcement officers have overemphasized on male Blacks and Hispanics to fight crime, leading to discrimination. The other implication for the study is that parents and law enforcement officials should take extra steps to prevent adolescent youths from joining gangs. The research indicates that joining gangs starts at age 12 and peaks at 14. From age 16, the youths start leaving gangs.
Some researchers have sought to examine the long-term impacts of gang-membership on individuals. Melde and Esbensen (2014) analyze how gang-membership impacts the perceptions of youths who transition from gangs to normal lives. This study utilizes panel data derived from a sample of 512 youths involved in gangs. The results indicate that youths involved in gang membership and subsequently leave have an increased tendency of reoffending. The findings indicate that youth who were previously involved in gang membership had low commitment levels towards education, were more likely to associate with delinquent peers, and constantly engaged in norm violations. This study has certain implications for the society, community and local authorities. The main implication for these groups is to avoid labeling of youths previously involved in gang membership since this can contribute towards recidivism. Treating youths formerly involve in gangs in a negative way can contribute to continuation of negative behaviors such as delinquent behaviors.
Some studies have attempted to provide a comprehensive demographic analysis of gang membership among youths in the United States. The major aim of these studies is to dispel myths that gangs comprise of Black and Hispanic males. Esbensen and Carson (2012) examine gang membership specifically challenging the generally accepted notions on gang membership. The findings indicate that girls are almost as likely as boys are to join gang membership. At an average age of 11.5 years, girls comprise of 45% of the entire gang members. This figure reduces slightly to 31% at a mean age of 15.5 years. These findings are similar to Pyrooz and Sweeten (2015) findings. Further, the findings indicate that 27% of White youths are involved in gang membership, while Black youths account for 18% of the total sample. Nonetheless, the study indicates that Black youths are overrepresented in gang membership, especially below 15.5 years. The implications for society and community, local and national authorities is that policies aimed at curbing gang-membership should focus on both gender, and youths from all ethnic/racial backgrounds.
Identify and classify the types of gangs common in various geographical communities
This is the first category of gangs, and comprises of about 88 percent of the United States gang composition (“National Gang Intelligence Center (NGIC)”, 2013). There are two types of street gangs: neighborhood-based street gangs and the national street gangs. National street gangs engage in criminal activities on a wider scale, usually covering the entire U.S. On the other hand, neighborhood-based street gangs operate within their local areas. National street gangs are extremely violent. They are involved in smuggling illegal drugs in large quantities and across the entire country. Neighborhood-street gangs conduct their activities within their localities. Neighborhood-street gangs often recruit local youths, causing them to drop out of school. In addition, they mostly sell drugs to youths within their neighborhoods. This has a negative impact on educational standards within localities where neighborhood-based gangs have established their activities. Crime rates in such societies increase while the criminal justice system deals with large number of young offenders. This may increase the rates of incarcerations within an area.
Prison gangs comprise of criminal groups that operate within the correctional facilities. Prison gangs form when a group of inmates develops a common hierarchy and a set of unique rules or values. Prison gangs often form around racial and ethnic lines. They can be less formalized in terms of structure or be highly structured, with complex links and even influence to criminal networks outside prison. Criminal gangs pose a significant threat in the criminal justice system, mainly curtailing the rehabilitation of inmates. According to NGIC (2013), prison gang members who leave correctional facilities often regroup to form gangs. While in prison, prison gangs may still control criminal activities within neighborhoods. For instance, they can influence smaller gangs to control illegal drug activities within their former territories. Prison gangs can influence the outcomes of court cases through witness intimidation. Within prisons, they also commit a host of illegal activities such as illegal drug trade, assaults, murder, and others. This curtails the criminal justice system from achieving intended objectives of rehabilitating offenders.
Outlaw motorcycle gangs
Outlaw motorcycle gangs comprise of criminal organizations that take advantage of their motorcycle clubs as an avenue for propagating criminal activities. They are highly structured criminal networks and may engage in various illegal activities such as drug trafficking, weapons trafficking, money laundering, arson, and violent crime. Outlaw motorcycle gangs comprise about 2.5% of gang membership in the United States (“NGIC,” 2015). This category of gang poses the least threat to the public, mainly due to the low membership. However, they tend to commit crimes with higher magnitude and devastating consequences to the public. Outlaw motorcycle gangs may target law enforcement officers, causing loss of lives. Most of the outlaw motorcycle gangs recruit members from street gangs, extremist groups, and prison gangs (“NGIC,” 2015). Outlaw motorcycle gangs can have a negative effect on educational standards and crime levels in an area. Since they are involved in drug trafficking, they increase the risk of youths becoming drug addicts. They also promote gang culture among the youth. Their flashy lifestyle and expensive motorbikes may influence youth to join or form similar gangs, oblivious of the risks involved.
Various approaches, programs, and policies for responding to gang formation and activities
The corrections system remains critical in responding to gang formation and activities. Gang members who commit serious crimes are likely to face incarceration. Youths who commit less serious crimes are likely to go through community-based approaches. Community-based approaches involve different stakeholders coming together to solve the problem of crime. Certain programs target crime in the society. One of the most comprehensive model to tackling crime is the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) Comprehensive Community-Wide Gang Model (Howell, 2010). This model includes crime suppression, prevention and intervention activities. It has five major strategies that include community mobilization, social intervention, suppression, opportunities provision, and organizational change and development. Another approach used is legislation at the local, state and federal levels. This involves developing provisions that enable the law enforcement agencies to fight gangs more effectively. Examples of legislation include juvenile curfews in various places such as Long Beach, CA, which takes effect between 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. The aim of legislation is to develop appropriate punishment enhancement provisions. Another desired outcome of legislation is to ensure that action is taken against principals involved in committing crimes and their accomplices. Another desired outcome relates to the need to streamline the criminal justice system by developing appropriate laws that uniformly apply to all.
Intervention programs are critical in helping prevent gang formation and development. Intervention approaches include programs that aim at rehabilitating juvenile gang members, developing violence-free areas, and establishing truces. The major aim is to influence the youth to shun crime and to reduce criminal behaviors among the youths already in gangs. Some intervention programs aim at averting youth incarceration by advocating for an informal offender processing, which leads to community work for offenders. It is important to avoid incarceration since this may have a negative impact on the juvenile and increase the risk of recidivism. Some intervention programs aim at providing peer support to young offenders by pairing them with older adults who can provide the much-needed advice. Another desired outcome is to reduce the overall rate of recidivism among youths released from correctional facilities.
One of the approaches employed in checking gang formation and activities is suppression, which entails the use of police. Law enforcement agencies play a critical role in suppressing crime in the community. The police are involved in conducting surveillance, patrols, arrests, intelligence gathering, implementing prevention initiative, and enhancing collaboration with communities for information gathering (Howell, 2010). There is improved coordination among various security organs with an aim to improving security. Prosecution of gang members is another approach. The aim of the prosecution is to ensure that guilty offenders face incarceration. The current criminal justice system aims at rehabilitating offenders rather than punishing them. As such, petty gang offenders are put under probation or parole whereby their behavior is closely monitored. Some probation initiatives include group counselling, residential care initiatives, job placement, school arrangements, and other initiatives that aim at averting recidivism.
Relevant issues in gang formation, functioning, and recommendations for community response
Three fundamental theoretical frameworks try to explain the purpose of existence of gangs. These frameworks include social disorganization theory, cultural transmission of crime, and the differential association theory (Wood & Alleyne, 2010). The social disorganization perspective holds that crime exists because of breakdown in societal norms and values. The cultural transmission perspective holds that crime is the result of cultural transmission of criminogenic norms down the generations. The differential association perspective holds that crime is a learned behavior. While these theoretical underpinnings hold different views on the origins of crime, researchers generally agree that street gangs emerge in neighborhoods with high poverty rates, social disorganization, victimization, and fear (Wood & Alleyne, 2010). Youths living in high crime areas are more likely to join gang membership compared to those in low-crime areas.
This study makes a number of recommendations for community response to gangs. The first recommendation involves developing prevention programs to gang membership that targets adolescents. Community prevention programs may include recreational activities, mediation activities, advocacy at school and involving local authorities, and probation programs. Community outreach programs can also help in reaching out to the youth who are in the verge of joining gangs. The study also recommends the implementation of school-based programs to help fight gang-membership at schools. These programs should also aim at eliminating bullying at schools. Afterschool activities can also help reduce gang membership. For instance, some communities have developed afterschool programs that cater who have joined drugs or are abusing drugs. This can help reduce the risk of recidivism.
Esbensen, F., & Carson, D. C. (2012). Who Are the Gangsters? An examination of the age, race/ethnicity, sex, and immigration status of self-reported gang members in a seven-city study of American youth. Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice, 28(4) 465–481.
Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). (2015). Gangs. Retrieved from https://www.fbi.gov/investigate/violent-crime/gangs
Howell, J. C. (2010). Gang Prevention: An overview of research and programs. Retrieved from https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/ojjdp/231116.pdf
In Maxson, C. L. (2014). The modern gang reader. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Melde, C., & Esbensen, F. (2014). The relative impact of gang status transitions: Identifying the mechanisms of change in delinquency. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, 51(3), 349-376. doi:10.1177/0022427813507059
National Gang Center (NGC). (2012). National youth gang survey analysis. Retrieved from https://www.nationalgangcenter.gov/survey-analysis/measuring-the-extent-of-gang- problems
National Gang Intelligence Center (NGIC). (2013). 2013 NGIC Gang Report. National Gang Intelligence Center.
National Gang Intelligence Center (NGIC). (2015). 2015 National Gang Report (NGR). Retrieved from https://www.fbi.gov/file-repository/national-gang-report-2015.pdf/view
Pyrooz, D. C., & Sweeten, G. (2015). Gang membership between ages 5 and 17 years in the United States. The Journal of Adolescent Health : Official Publication of the Society for Adolescent Medicine, 56(4), 414-419. doi:10.1016/j.jadohealth.2014.11.018
Wood, J., & Alleyne, E. (2010). Street gang theory and research: Where are we now and where do we go from here? Aggression and Violent Behavior, 15(2), 100-111. doi:10.1016/j.avb.2009.08.005