Timeline and Narrative of Gang Essay

Pages: 12 (3226 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 8  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Criminal Justice

, 2004).

The inexorable effects of the combination of difficult economic times and the proliferation of gangs and gang-related images of idealized violence affected how young people viewed and valued gangs. Some researchers maintain the surge in gang activity during this period in American history was caused by the increased popularity of gang culture's creativity in music and television, as well as the powerful influence of the mainstream media in depicting gang activity (Curry & Decker, 2002). Other researchers argue that the music was a reflection of the growing anger and hostility in urban areas as increasing numbers of Americans experienced yet another economic recession (Weatherburn, 1992). Although there is a paucity of credible studies in this area, some research has identified a slight increase in aggression levels of young people exposed to television violence (Eron, 1992).


Continuing the trends began in the 1980s, gang activity continued to increase in most major American cities during this decade as well (Curry & Decker, 1998). Younger children during the early 1990s became extremely motivated to gain the approval of older male gang members whom they widely regarded as role models who were worthy of emulation (Curry & Decker, 1998). During this period, gangs are increasingly identified with their unique names, hand signals, colors, tattoos, clothing, and/or jewelry (Craig, 2002).Buy full Download Microsoft Word File paper
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The average age for young people becoming involved with a gang during the 1990s is between 12 and 17 years of age (Curry & Decker, 1998). During the period 1988 to 1992, tertiary prevention programs received approximately 60% of the grants awarded to address prevention, with primary and secondary prevention programs receiving just 5% and 35% respectively (Metzger & Strand, 1993). Researchers during the early part of this decade identified several risk factors for gang membership, including delinquent peers, early sexual activity, poor school performance and attendance, and/or unstable parent-child relationships (Thornberry, Huizinga & Loeber, 2004).

2000 and beyond

As of 2004, each of the 50 states reports gang activity (Egley & Major, 2004).

While gangs are typically associated with urban areas, they are now found in rural areas and small towns across the U.S. As well (Triplet, 2004).


The research showed that the impact of gangs and subcultures on the criminal justice system and society as a whole has been profound and pervasive, and the trends show no signs of abatement at present. Because gang activity is a complex, multifaceted problem, the overall success of the interventions used to date have been mixed, ranging from outright failures to moderate success and ranging the entire continuum of outcomes in between. According to Ebensen, Winfree and Taylor (2000), a number of major American cities have introduced gang prevention programs during the past 60 years. According to these researchers, "Community groups, social workers, and law enforcement personnel manage the different prevention programs in a variety of formats. By identifying the potential risk factors in the categories of personal characteristics and social conditions associated with youth engaging in violence, useful prevention and intervention programs can be developed and employed, ensuring that the limited resources available are used more appropriately" (Ebenson et al., 2000, p. 130). Likewise, studies have also found that the risk factors for becoming involved with gangs are frequently found in clusters and their cumulative effect may result in a higher likelihood that youths will become involved in gangs and criminal activities (Garbarino, 1999).

It is important to point out, though, that there are a number of contributing factors that can cause an individual to join a gang and each of these must be taken into account in formulating effective interventions (Garbarino, 1999). It is therefore possible to improve current methods that are designed to address gang and subculture activity. For instance, by targeting youth and women who are victims of crime in high gang activity communities, these victims may be diverted from becoming involved in future gang activity. In this regard, Metzger and Strand (1993) determined that just two grants had been awarded during a 4-year period that were specifically targeted at preventing youth or women from becoming victims of crime. These finding are significant because many gang members start out as victims of violence before becoming engaged in violent acts or gang activity themselves (Tolan & Guerra, 1994).

Law enforcement authorities and community-based social work resources should also seek to forge stronger working relationships with prosecutors and probation officers so that, when apprehended gang members receive individual attention and appropriate sentences (Allender, 2001). For instance, despite the need for additional research in this area, what is known is that young people who are involved in gangs commit more delinquent crimes compared to their counterparts who are not gang members (Hill, Lui, and Hawkins, 2001). It is also widely acknowledged that understanding the antecedents of gang affiliation can facilitate the formulation of effective gang prevention programs (Hill et al., 2001). The research to date has confirmed that the antecedents of gang affiliation affect young people differently within their communities, as well as within their families and the larger society in which they live (Hill et al., 2001). In addition, developing a standardized reporting format for all jurisdictions that identifies the actual antecedents to gang membership, it may be possible to identify opportunities to eliminate or mitigate these contributing factors (Allender, 2001). Citing the proliferation of gang activity in even small towns that have historically been immune from such activities, Allender concludes that, "Identifying the extent of gang activity in America remains a goal that all concerned citizens should work toward. Protecting this nation's youth from the dangers of gang involvement requires the effort of all facets of the society. If America's heartland is facing the threat of gangs, the entire country is at risk" (2001, p. 3).

Although every gang is unique in some fashion, the research showed that gangs share a number of common features that set them apart from other types of fraternal organizations, most especially the use of criminal practices as part of the business model and the openness and even celebration of gang status among its membership. Another common feature that appears to underlie all types of gang activity -- including the use of criminal enterprises to support their organizations -- is the primal and powerful force of fear. People join gangs because they are scared of something and gangs offer them a refuge. Time and again, gang members cite traditional values such as brotherhood and fraternity as the reasons they joined gangs, as well as more esoteric values that transcend conventional society's, but even these reasons are based on a mutual fear of something external to their groups. This fear may be of other gangs, "the man" or law enforcement, or just fear of conformance to conventional social standards they view as hypocritical and shallow.

In most cases, this fear is based in large part on the harsh realities that are the concomitant of poverty and racism. In many cases, people are scared of others who are different and this fear manifests itself in gang affiliation for mutual protection and a secure livelihood even if it means involvement in criminal activities as part of the price to be paid. Although not all gang members remain members for life, many do but only because they die so young. Those who grow out of the fears that compelled them to join gangs in the first place may succeed in denouncing their gang affiliation, but only at great personal risk because of the "blood in, blood out" conditions of their membership. In the final analysis, because fear is a natural human response and humans will always be scared of something, it is reasonable to conclude that there will always be gangs unless and until a social order is created that assures all stakeholders of an equitable share of resources that are already becoming increasingly scarce, and this eventuality is unlikely. In the interim, because resources are by definition scarce, it is important to use the available resources for gang prevention to their maximum effect. Therefore, identifying opportunities to prevent gang membership from the outset and focusing additional resources on this area represents the most effective approach available at present.


Allender, D.M. (2001, December). Gangs in Middle America: Are they a threat? FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, 70(2), 1-3.

Black's law dictionary. (1991). St. Paul, MN: West Publishing Co.

Conway, K., McCormack, M. & Thomas, C. (2003). Gangs of New York. Social Education, 67(6), 313-315.

Craig, W.M. (2002). The road to gang membership: characteristics of male gang and nongang members from ages 10 to 14. Social Development, 11, 53-68.

Curry, G.D., & Decker, S.H. (2002). Confronting gangs: crime and community (2nd ed.). Los Angeles: Roxbury Publishing Company.

Ebensen, F.A., Winfree, L.T., Ni He, N., & Taylor, T.J. (2001). Youth gangs and definitional issues: when is a gang, and why… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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