Research Paper: Klein and Maxson on Gang Reduction

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[. . .] Klein and Maxson demonstrate that the selection model -- in which gangs actively recruit youth who are already heavily involved in or predisposed to criminality -- is at best only partially true. Yet this notion had taken hold in law enforcement previously, and of course to act in accordance with the belief that this model is the most accurate one (when it is not) or to base a program's structure around this belief will ultimately result in a failed program, since it misdiagnoses precisely how gang membership facilitates and enhances criminality, and is more likely to view deterrent incarceration as the best solution for those who are already gang members: if law enforcement believes that gang membership is predicated upon an already high rate of criminality (rather than understanding gang membership has a tendence to increase anyone's rate of criminality simply by the fact of their participation in the gang, and that removal from membership decreases the offender's profile) then law enforcement is likely to structure programs in such a way that lead to failure.

As a result, Klein and Maxson conclude that the six failed programs that they subject to critical review failed because they were "weak in theory and based almost exclusively on poorly supported conventional wisdoms" (2006, 92). In particular, they single out D.A.R.E. As the most influential bad model for other programs, describing this famous youth-outreach school effort as a "remarkably failed program with a remarkably positive public relations image" (2006, 96). In other words, D.A.R.E. gave the general public a belief that something was being done to combat the social problem -- perhaps because it frequently sent students home with free bumper stickers, tee-shirts, and other tchotchkes to indicate to their parents that they had been subjected to an in-school D.A.R.E. presentation -- even though its real-world positive effect was virtually non-existent.

However, the most basic critique that Klein and Maxson offer here is that the failed programs are based on "conventional wisdom" which is, in itself, seductive but flawed. The most salient example they offer is the generalized belief on the part of law enforcement and designers of prevention programs that defines "gangs-as-merely-more-serious-delinquents" (Klein and Maxson 2006, 99). The real need, they argue, is for the integration of accurate research into the structuring of prevention programs. It must be noted that there are, however, gaps in the existing research; for example, Coughlin and Venkatesh note that "location-based perspective remains at the core of much research, despite evidence that local gangs have nonlocal members and that gangs migrate and/or expand into new territories" (2003, 56). This is, however, a deficiency based upon the ability of qualified professionals to study gangs -- although certainly Venkatesh himself has made great strides in investigating the social organization of gangs by embedding himself on the inside, as it were.

4. GANG PREVENTION STRATEGIES

Klein and Maxson make it clear that any prevention strategies must incorporate the existing body of scholarly research in ways that they have failed to do in the past: as they phrase it, "there is a strong need to develop gang control programs that incorporate knowledge about gangs" (96). However it is also worth noting that any viable approach will need to be multi-pronged in its approach. As Howell and Egley (2005) emphasize, "it is important to avoid gang programming that is similarly atomized in the expectation that a single program or strategy (such as an after-school program) will solve the problem. There is no magic bullet for combating gangs. A comprehensive continuum of programs and strategies is needed." (Howell and Egley 2005, 347). Howell gives a recent summary of the most salient risk factors: if youth "engage in delinquent behaviors, are aggressive or violent, experience multiple caretaker transitions, have many problems at school, associate with other gang involved youth, or live in communities where they feel unsafe and where many youth are in trouble" then the risk of joining a gang is substantially increased (2010, 1).

Consequently, Klein and Maxson emphasize in their general model of gang control that "gang programs should be modeled from solid research on the specific factors that predict gang membership and not the conventional wisdom of generic applicability of findings from analyses of crime patterns" (2006, 140). Their objective, as they state it, is that ultimately perhaps "caring and intelligent practitioners in the gang world can come to some wise decisions -- wiser, at least, than has generally been the case in the past," thereby emphasizing the failures of over-policing and also of programs based on false conventional wisdom (2006, 247). However their basic recommendation is for a program of prevention, intervention and suppression at both the individual and the group level. In particular, Klein and Maxson emphasize that "communities spawn gangs, and it is these gang-spawning characteristics that should be targeted" (2006, 149). As a result, effective programs are going to intervene in the actual social structure of the affected communities, and not focus on individual responsibility. A social problem requires a social response to be effective.

References

Coughlin, BC and Venkatesh, SA. (2003). The urban street gang after 1970. Annual Review of Sociology 29. 41-64.

Howell, JC. (2010). Gang prevention: An overview of research and programs. Washington DC: U.S. Department of Justice.

Howell,… [END OF PREVIEW]

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"Klein and Maxson on Gang Reduction."  Essaytown.com.  April 25, 2014.  Accessed June 18, 2019.
https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/klein-maxson-gang-reduction/9394882.