INVESTIGATING JUVENILE GANGS AND THEORIES CONCERNING THEM

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Juvenile gangs are no longer the "rascals" of the "Our Gang" comedies, nor are they filled with the romantic characters of "West Side Story". They are not even a uniquely American phenomenon. Juvenile gangs are composed of young people with a child's emotional maturity who wield adult weapons. Understanding the sources of alienation and isolation in these young people's lives is only the first step a humane society needs to take toward reintroducing them as productive citizens.

The social disorganization theory criminologists and other social scientists look at many things when trying to explain what causes criminal behavior. It follows that sociologists have developed social structure theories in an effort to link criminal behavior patterns to socioeconomic forces and other social environmental factors. (Kelly, 2000, p. 531).

Society and Social Class

Juvenile gang members are typically community outcasts; alienated low-achieving adolescents from dysfunctional families who find a supportive environment within a gang. Many gang members may come from affluent family backgrounds or be successful students, but bow to overwhelming peer pressure to join a gang. Gang affiliation has been linked to the teen's home life and the friends they associate with. In the following viewpoint, Lewis Yablonsky, 1997 contends that children who grow up in abusive and dysfunctional homes or who have parents who abuse drugs are more likely to participate in gang violence than children who have nurturing parents. According to Yablonsky 1997, substance-abusing parents are self-centered and unable to teach their children how to be caring and compassionate. In addition, he asserts that abused or neglected children develop low self-esteem and have little regard for their well-being, which leads to self-destructive behavior such as joining a gang.

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In large cities, their suburbs look like third world countries. Community centers, recreational areas, libraries many times do not exist and jobs are nearly impossible to find. What they have most of is abandoned buildings, liquor stores, and adult entertainment. Men and women are dealing drugs, drinking, or just passing time on street corners (Joan Serra Hoffman, 2004). Community and city official should clean up these areas instead of putting more money into other areas. Adding community centers in abandoned buildings like girls and boys clubs. Giving incentives to businesses that would go back into the community and allow business owners to hire people from within the community. Buildings that are not salvageable should be torn down and build community parks. Today's budget cuts are not helping in these areas; they are cutting funds to parks, pools, and community centers. In the absence of these types of facilities, the long summer days and nights without entertainment means teens will find something else to do; which could lead to destructive behaviors or gang activities.

In a Socioeconomically depressed ghetto and neighborhoods of America, Law enforcement and civic minded people views gangs as a cancer and must be eliminated. At the same time in contrast there is a mass of varied audience for the glorification of gang life in films, songs, verses and other Medias. Both viewpoints reveal how gangs are denounce and romanticizes in American Society.

Gangster rappers sing of sex, violence, and, drugs by using harsh or offensive language. The glorification of living a thug life and all that it encompasses has become the means by which all rap artists are judged "By the 1990's rap artists like, DJ Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince, Curtis Blow and Biz Markie were no longer accepted in the rap music" (Toms, 2006, p1). Those rap artists were considered role models, because they relayed positive messages to their listeners (Toms, 2006, p1). The majority of today's rap culture involves a lot of explicit material and negativities. For example, L.L. Cool J's rap song "Cop killer" and The Game "Bang Along". Television depicts a gang life as one of riches and romance. It also insinuates that killing is a way to get ahead in the world. These show violence as a way of life. Gone are the days of shows that instill positive effects on our youth or youth activities of a fun nature. Video games are more violent in nature than days from earlier days, and the only way you can win at the game is to kill. Violent video games have been linked to several shootings, where the juveniles were so obsessed with the game and it became a reality to them, Columbine and Virginia tech for example. Even if it is freedom of speech, lawmakers, producers, or retail stores who sell and produce those products should control who they are being sold to.

Effects on Juveniles in Gangs

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The effects on juveniles in gangs is the individual's self-image and sense of self-worth, which is controlled by the group mentality of the gang and are grounded in the desensitization caused by the violent life most gang members feel locked into. With nothing to lose, they are free to act in a way that objectifies other human beings who are not members of the group. The attitudes of society and the punitive nature of the "correctional" system do little to change this negative outlook, instead they tend to reinforce the bonds represented by gang membership. The romance of gang life and the continued isolation of gang members due to their lack of education and training have turned large areas of our cities into zones of inter-gang warfare and have encouraged expansion of gang activity into suburban and rural areas. The gangster's macho-syndrome is an effort at compensating for his failure to succeed in society. Gangsters created this macho-syndrome stance in part as a reaction to their deep feeling of alienation.

Drugs

According to the 2007 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBSS), conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 38% of high school students surveyed nationwide used marijuana during their lifetime. Also the percentage of students reporting drug use were; Currently using marijuana 19.7% Current Cocaine 3.3% Inhalant 13.3% Heroin use2.3% meth 4.4% ecstasy 5.8% steroids 3.9%. Although the link between drug uses by juveniles involved in serious delinquency and by those not attending school is well documented. The survey also reported that 2 million youth rate themselves as heavy alcohol drinkers, with over 1 billion cans of beer being consumed annually by junior and senior high school students alone.

Violence

Gangs are known to be very violent. Gangs use violence to protect their own gang members from enemy attacks. They also use violence to jump people in or to get them out of the gang. Gangs also use violence to represent where they are from; if an opposing gang disrespects them, they are killed or beaten up. Violence can be shown in forms of shooting people with guns, stabbing people with knives, or even punching them and kicking them until they are unconscious. Sometimes gangs tend to beat people up just for the sport of it. It makes them feel like they are untouchables. Some gangs use violence as a form of security. Whenever they feel like they are in danger, they use any form or means to fight back or protect themselves. Present day gangs are using more and more guns and deadly force to fight. Various researches, including police reports say that 50 percent of gang related murders hit their intended target of rival gang members, the other 50 percent hits innocent bystanders. Victims believed the offenders were gang members in about 12% of all aggravated assaults that occurred between 1993 and 2003. Offenders were identified as gang members in about 4% of rapes, 10% of robberies, and 6% of simple assaults.

Races and Gender

In the US there are many gangs; however, they are not entirely same race. Most gangs are not separated by race; there are many gangs that are mixed or different ethnicities. The mixture of ethnicities is mainly because they brought-up in the same community or neighborhood. Just like in the social disorganization theory, these gangs are brought up and made of members that were force or lured into a gang. The most recent figures provided by law enforcement are 49 percent Hispanic/Latino gang members, 35 percent African-American/black gang members, 9 percent white gang members, and 7 percent other race/ethnicity of gang members. (Esbensen et al., 2008)

Ways of preventing Gangs

There are many ways of preventing gangs from forming, one way should start in the family. Parents should pay more attention to what their kids are doing and less time leaving them to do whatever they want. Instead of having kids come home after school and hanging around in the streets, they should be signed up for after school programs. Boys and Girls Clubs have gang prevention through a targeted outreach program that fills at risk youth's (ages 6-18) desires for gang membership (i.e., a need for supportive adults, challenging activities and a place to belong) with an alternative social activity that reinforce positive behaviors.

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Boys and Club intervention through targeted outreach is a program that recruits gang-involved youth into club membership to decrease gang-related behaviors and contact with the juvenile justice system. The Broader Urban Involvement and Leadership Development Detention Program are promising programs with four components that work with community youth gang members, adult mentors and adjudicated youth in detention center. Another way of preventing gangs from forming could be done with the local law enforcement. Law enforcement should put some harsh penalties to gang violence and delinquent gang activities. This will encourage other gang members to stop their violent delinquent behavior. (Juvenile Justice Bulletin, Jeff Slowikowski, Acting Administrator, December 2010 p14)

Regardless of the quality of any juvenile correctional facility's gang intervention program, it is unrealistic to believe that gang-involved youths will experience smooth and effortless assimilations back into the community. Numerous post-release tests, challenges and difficulties are inevitable, even for those who have developed a genuine internalized, personal commitment to redirect their lives. Because of several issues, many youths will require a continuation of services after release. Today more than ever, correctional staff must have a relationship with members of the community who will work with youths once they have left a correctional facility. The needs of each youth will vary greatly, depending on a number of factors. A wide array of after-care services and resources need to be made available to meet the individual needs of each youth re-entering the community. These services can encompass community-based transitional services, including residential living; drug and alcohol counseling; support groups; job and vocational skills training; employment; mentoring; mental health; recreation; and opportunities to make positive contributions to enhance their communities

Another program a parent should in enroll their children into is Boy and Girl Scouts of America. The Boy and Girl Scouts of America is one of the nation's largest and most prominent values-based youth development organizations. They provide a program for young people, that builds character and train them in the responsibilities of participating citizenship, and develop personal fitness. The key to Boy and Girls scouts is to develop a child into a productive and responsible adult.

Schools can fight gang activity by banning certain items of clothing, weapons, violence, illegal activities, and other things related to gang membership. School personnel need to be clear about strictly enforcing discipline. Painting over graffiti and transferring disruptive students who are gang members can be helpful responses to gang actions. Schools can work together with the community including local police to reduce and eliminate school related activity. (Gaustad, 1990).

Conclusion

There are many reasons why gangs are formed. However, the main reason why gangs could be best explained is using the social disorganization theory. Drugs, alcohol, family home, friends, and media venues, are some of the reason I touched on in this thesis and why there are so many gangs in this world. If we as a community, and parents take time in our children lives we can reduce delinquent and gang membership risk. By providing programs, talking to our youth and providing community activities that instill proper behaviors and other avenues of entertainment that would not be disruptive. We could greatly diminish the chances of our youth joining gangs.. Just remember that Juvenile gangs are no longer the "rascals" of the "Our Gang" comedies, nor are they filled with the romantic characters of "West Side Story." They are not even a uniquely American phenomenon. They cost society approximately $1 million for each assault-relate gunshot injury. A Single adolescent criminal career of about ten years can cost the taxpayers between $1.7 and $2.3 million.