Gangs in Our Society
Running head: GANGS: THE EFFECT ON SOCIETY 1 Gangs: The Effect on Society 2 Abstract Crime is a growing problem in cities around the United States.A big part of this problem can be attributed to gangs.The number of people who get injured or killed by gang violence continues to rise.
Some people feel the criminal justice system is failing to control the growth and strength of gangs in communities and prisons alike.
In today’s society, the age of gang members continues to decrease while the number of them continues to increase. As youth continue to age the chance that they will end up in prison increases. There will be focus on the relationship between prison and street gangs and how society is affected as a result of these gangs. It is important to look at how gang violence can be reduced if not prevented all together. Introduction and Background
Gangs in America flourish in an environment where basic social institutions such as family, role models, and education are weak. Often found in ghettos and poor, lower class neighborhoods, gangs can also thrive in rural and suburban areas (Palmer, 2010). Before we begin to explore the various aspects of gangs, it is important to define what a gang is. There are many definitions and much debate about gangs among law enforcement and scholars. For this reason constructing a definition that represents all types of gangs becomes problematic and almost impossible.
For this paper I will use the Ohio Revised Code definition of a gang which is, “Any organization, association, or group of persons, either formal or informal, which may have a common name or identifying sign or symbol, whose members or associates engage in activities Gangs: The Effect on Society 3 which include, but are not limited to: planning, organizing, threatening, financing, soliciting, or committing unlawful acts” (Steele, 2011). History of Gangs
It is not known when gangs first came into existence but the word thug dates back to the 1200’s. Thug is derived from the word “thugz”, which is an Indian word that refers to a gang of criminals who would travel the country causing trouble (Padilla, 1992). Gang activity became most prominent in the United States in the 1920’s due to Al Capone, also known as Scarface. Due to Prohibition during this time, criminal gangs began to distribute alcohol on the black market. Capone influenced many would-be gangsters and by the 1950’s there were a number of cities with gangs committing crimes at an alarming rate.
Street gangs have changed over the years with respect to their goals, the age of members, their commitment to delinquency, and the level of violence. Adamson (1998) attributes this change to immigration, population movement, economic transformations, racial and ethnic conflict and the changing fabric of neighborhood and family life. Methodology Information presented in this paper came from a variety of sources. Among them are interviews, review of literature, and gang training. There have been many residents of the correctional facility this author has worked over the years who are members of youth gangs in their communities.
The majority of them have family members who are currently serving time in prison for gang related crimes. This author attended a gang training put on by the Ohio Supreme Gangs: The Effect on Society 4 Court Judicial College in which many of the speakers are experts in the fields they work in. Vinko Kucinic, a Security Threat Group Investigations Coordinator with the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections provided a great deal of information along with insight as to the severity and seriousness of prison gangs.
Literature review included books, journal articles, and websites. Objectives The objectives of this paper are to give a little background into the formation of gangs and how they got to where they are now. Gangs continue to grow due to the number of youth joining these gangs for various reasons. Youth who prefer the gang life may find themselves in trouble with the law, which will lead us to the relationship between street and prison gangs. After we explore the particulars about street and prison gangs we will look at the various theories that explain why people join gangs.
The paper will end with what and how society and law enforcement can reduce or prevent the increasing number of gangs in our society. Data Results of Youth Gangs The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) performed a National Youth Gang Survey in 2007 that found there were more than 27,000 active gangs across the United States and more than 788,000 gang members, a 7. 7% percent increase from 2002 (Marion & Oliver, 2006). There are many reasons why youth decide to join gangs. Some of the reasons boys join include protection from the streets, access to illegal drugs, a substitute for
Gangs: The Effect on Society 5 family, and they have family members who belong to gangs. Girls join because family and friends are involved and they want to get a reputation (Huff, 2002). According to Howell (2010) youth are at higher risk of joining a gang if they engage in delinquent behaviors, are aggressive or violent, experience multiple caretakers, have problems at school, associate with other gang-involved youth, or live in communities where they feel unsafe and where other youth get into trouble.
When youth do not get love and support from their families, especially their parents eventually they will look elsewhere for it. The teenage years are often the most vulnerable, a time when they need guidance and acceptance in their lives. Gangs are viewed to many members as “family” because people care them, watch out for them, and will never leave them. Many youth who grow up in crime-ridden neighborhoods because of gangs may feel the only way to stay safe is to join a gang. Rival gangs often walk the streets coercing younger kids to join their gangs. Some may feel as though they have no choice but to join.
Youth who have family members in gangs can sometimes feel persuaded or pressured into joining the gang as well.Deanna Rodriguez, gang bureau chief in New York says, “We’re seeing more children who are being exposed to the gang world because their parents are members” (Parks, 2011). From the time they are babies they are dressed in the colors and taught the signs with their hands. When children are raised in this type of environment from such an early age, it becomes the only lifestyle they know. Another reason youth join gangs is a much debated issue and is based on the media.
According to Mike Carlie (2002) there are three main views of the effect that violence in the media has on children. Gangs: The Effect on Society 6 The first view is that children who are raised in violent environments get confirmation of that violence when observing it or gang activity in the media. The second view is that non-violent children who are not supervised growing up while watching violent television, playing violent video games, or listening to violent rap music, begin to mimic what they witness or hear.
The last view is that violence in the media allows for the purging of negative emotions and feelings. Bill O’Reilly gives his perspective on the relationship between violence in the media and gangs. The excerpt from Dudley & Gerdes (2005) reads: The debasement of our culture, of which gangsta rap is a big part, has coarsened children in general and put high-risk kids in a dangerous place. Taking drugs, carrying guns and disrespecting human beings is now not only socially acceptable in many situations, it is downright glamorous. Prison and Street gangs It is estimated by the U.
S. Department of Justice that the number of gangs totaled about one million in 2008. Of those 147,000 were documented gang members incarcerated in correctional facilities (Parks, 2011). Gang activity is a growing problem in America’s prisons. Gangs in prisons are known as security threat groups (STGs) because of the interference with prison discipline. The major threats that gangs pose include the smuggling of contraband, violence, and bribery (Newton, 2008). The top leaders of gangs in prison are the ones who have been imprisoned the longest and run the street gangs.
The STGs have the same agenda as other gangs but instead of them starting on the street and ending up in prison, they organize in prison and take their activity out on the streets through the use of visitors and parolees. Gangs: The Effect on Society 7 Street gangs are exploited for money and other resources through prison gangs. This occurs in a number of ways. Family members often operate as messengers and drug couriers. They are normally given instructions by gang members during visits to pass on to members of the street gangs.
Family members are also known to smuggle contraband in to inmates that can include cellphones, drugs, and money. According to the National Gang Intelligence Center (NGIC) and the US Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP), cell phones smuggled into correctional facilities pose the greatest threat to institution safety (“2011 National gang”, 2011). These cell phones, including smartphones, give incarcerated gang members power over street gangs through text messages, internet access, email, and unmonitored conversations.
Cell phones are used to plan or direct criminal activities such as assault, murder, and drug interactions. The main difference between street gangs and prisons gangs is their motivation for violence. Street gangs normally commit violent acts to terrorize its enemies; if a murder occurs it is usually of secondary importance. The prison gang uses murder as a specific act of revenge; the terror created by the killing is of secondary importance (Landre, Miller, & Porter, 1997). In many cases, the “wannabes” pose more of a threat in prison then do actual gang members.
This is due to the “wannabes” carrying out numerous violent acts as they attempt to impress other members with their ability to be ruthless and to show support for the activities of the group. Aryan Brotherhood One of the top prison gangs is the Aryan Brotherhood (AB). AB is a white supremacist group that was formed in 1967, at San Quentin prison in California (Walker, 2011). They initially formed for the protection of whites against blacks in prison and have since become a Gangs: The Effect on Society 8 criminal enterprise.
The AB is concerned with white-supremacy, and is known to murder those who oppose the system. In the prison system they are known for their control of the sale of drugs, gambling, “punk,” or male prostitutes. The only way to become a member of the AB is to abide by their philosophy of “Blood In- Blood Out” (Steele, 2011). This means that you kill somebody to get into the gang and die to part from it. Mexican Mafia Another of the top prison gangs is the Mexican Mafia.
The Mexican Mafia was formed in the 1950’s within the California Department of Corrections, and is one of the oldest and most powerful prison gangs in the United States (Walker, 2011). They are well known for drug trafficking, extortion, and murder. They often use the number 13 as their gang identification, due to the letter “M” being the 13th letter of the alphabet. One unique characteristic of the Mexican Mafia is that a member of the gang itself may not be murdered without the vote of at least three members, non-members do not require a vote. Theories of Gang Membership
There are numerous criminological theories that give explanations to the reasons why people become members of a gang. Social disorganization theory was first introduced by Clifford Shaw and Henry McKay in 1942. Prior to this Frederic Thrasher is credited with the research that led up to this in 1927 with his study of 1,313 Chicago gang youth (Howell & Curry, 2009). Thrasher felt that economic destabilization contributed to social disorganization, which in turn, led to the breakdown of conventional social institutions such as the school, the church, and most importantly the family (Wood & Alleyne, 2010).
When families or schools were Gangs: The Effect on Society 9 ineffective in the socialization of children, the gang was there to fill the gaps. Furthermore, neighborhoods that lack organization ultimately lack the ability to provide essential services to the residents of the community. Shaw and McKay felt that personal ties among neighbors are what constitute community organization. Differential association theory
The idea of differential association was introduced by Edwin Sutherland in 1939 (Conrad, Cox, Allen & Hanser, 2008). His approach combines principles of the learning theory with the idea that learning takes place in interaction within social groups. Sutherland recognized that criminal behavior is learned and that young people develop attitudes and skills necessary to become delinquent by associating with individuals who are “carriers” of criminal norms (Wood & Alleyne, 2010). The family is the primary point of learning social behavior, including deviant behavior.
Individuals learn how to define situations as being law-abiding or law-violating behavior based on what they have experienced in life experiences. Strain theory There are several variations of the strain theory but the central concept is that society sets universal goals for its populace and then offers the ability to achieve them to a limited number of people (Wood & Alleyne, 2010). Albert Cohen depicts gang members as working class youth who experience strain resulting in status frustration. Status frustration can be resolved when the youth associates with others like them in order to get back at middle class ideals and standards.
Gangs: The Effect on Society 10 This leads to the formation of a delinquent subculture where instant gratification, fighting, and destructive behavior become the new values (Wood & Alleyne, 2010). Reducing/Preventing Gang Violence Gang violence is a societal problem, and all parts of our society play a role in tolerating it and enabling it. The steady growth of gangs and gang-related crime presents a challenge for law enforcement and communities alike on all levels throughout the United States.
There is evidence that some progress has been made however. The FBI’s Safe Streets Violent Crime Initiative has focused on the most violent gangs, crimes of violence, and the apprehension of violent fugitives (Parks, 2011). As a result of this from 2001 to 2008 over 40,000 arrests and 17,000 convictions of gang members were made (Parks, 2011). Law enforcement is not the only ones who should be worried about gang activity and crime. The community is an important part of reducing and preventing gang violence. Community Involvement
The most important thing a community can do to address gang problems is to prevent them from developing. Early intervention programs in schools can identify youth who are truant and/or who show signs of violent or disruptive behavior and get them assistance before it becomes too late (Alonso, Coles, & Fry, 2000). Schools can also encourage those youth to join extra-curricular activities whether it is sports or clubs such as drama, band, choir, and art to name a few. These activities can give a youth a sense of accomplishment and can also provide them with a sense of belonging.
Gangs: The Effect on Society 11 Communities have also started imposing anti-gang ordinances known as injunctions. Injunctions vary from city to city but the idea is that they prohibit gang members from engaging in activities in “safety zones” (Parks, 2011). In these safety zones, gang members may not display gang signs, wear gang colors, associate or intimidate others. Violators are subject to fine and/or jail time. Parental Involvement
Parents can be the most active players in preventing and reducing gang problems. Parents and other responsible adults need to learn everything they can about gangs and why youth join gangs as this can help keep children and neighborhoods safe. Chanequa Walker-Barnes, a psychology professor at the University of North Carolina concluded from research that parents- especially those in African American families have a lot of influence over their children and can help them avoid gangs (Hamilton, 2002). What parents do not realize is that losing a child to the gang can be avoided.
They need to show their children love, support, and acceptance before it is too late. Law Enforcement and Government Involvement Gang units and task forces are important in targeting gangs and have played a major role in mitigating gang activity in a number of US communities. Other efforts to control the spread of gang violence include RICO. RICO is the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, which increases penalties for various crimes, such as murder, arson, robbery, or extortion, when the offender belongs to an organized criminal group (Newton, 2008).
Gangs: The Effect on Society 12 Gang Resistance Education and Training (G. R. E. A. T. ) is a gang and violence prevention program built around school-based, law enforcement officer-instructed classroom curricula (“Prevent youth crime,,” 2011). The main purposes of the program are to immunize against delinquency, youth violence, and gang membership for children before they reach the age that gang temptation is rampant. Discussion The most interesting and intriguing thing learned in this authors research is that it is not easy to get out of the gang.
One story by a gang member commented that it is not uncommon for members to be told they cannot ever leave the gang. Even if they are allowed to quit, they are often required to be “jumped out”, meaning they must undergo a beating by gang members. In addition to be beaten by gang members, someone who wants to leave the gang may be stabbed by gang members as well. It seems as though anything goes when it comes to being jumped out. Gang members don’t care if they are use fists, knives, guns, or if there are two or 50 members doing the beating.
Membership in gangs is taken seriously and quitting is considered an insult and a sign of disloyalty. Relationship between prison and street gangs Before this research was started this author had the perception that street and prison gangs were two separate entities. The literature clearly proved that perception wrong. Prison gangs run the street gangs and control most aspects of the drug world as well. Gang members in prison control not only the street gangs but family members as well as prison staff.
Corrections officers and parole officers are also known to smuggle contraband in for inmates. Prison staff Gangs: The Effect on Society 13 can play two roles in prison gang culture. As active participants they may provide alibis, take bribes or payments for their silence, and provide opportunities for crimes to be carried out. Passive participants may “overlook” situations long enough for gang members to do what they want. Prison staff is not immune to the violence of gangs. They may be threatened, physically or sexually assaulted and harassed.
Youth gangs All the literature on youth gangs just reinforces how vulnerable children are in the early years. The number of youth who join gangs to find belonging and acceptance is unreal. One cannot blame a child for wanting to feel needed or to want protection when they are not getting that from the one place that means the most, the home. What is more heartbreaking are the children who do not get the choice of whether they want to be a gang member as they are born into it and that is the only life they know. Conclusion
The prevalence of gangs and the number of crimes committed by gang members demonstrate that while gang activity may not be a new problem, it certainly presents serious issues. Youth gangs are an increasing problem in societies across the country and are the easiest time of a person’s life to prevent them from joining a gang. There are so many programs in schools and the communities that parents can access for their at risk youth. Prison gangs do not just affect the correctional systems as they control what happens on the streets. What is the prisons problems spill out to become the community’s problems as well.
Several theories were looked at to help explain why people join gangs such as the strain theory, differential association Gangs: The Effect on Society 14 theory and the social disorganization theory. There are a number of ways given that parents and communities can help in the reduction and prevention of gang involvement as well as what law enforcement and government agencies are doing. Gangs: The Effect on Society 15 References
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