Youth and Adolescent involvement in Gangs

The involvement of adolescents and youth in gangs has detrimental effects on the society. The gangs pose a threat to the people hence the question on which factors motivate the young people to join gangs needs to be answered. It is very important for parents, guardians and the law enforcement authorities to have a clear understanding on how youth gangs develop, which activities they are engaged in and which strategies can be implemented to address the problem of youth gangs. The formation of gangs is motivated by different reasons .Statistics indicate that gang membership increases the probability of an adolescent or youth to get engaged in crime. Based on the reason for the establishment of a gang, the activities undertaken by gang members vary. Getting involved in criminal activities puts the life and future of young people at risk. There is need for parents, guardians and social organizations to develop effective prevention and intervention strategies that should be implemented to address the issue.

The involvement of adolescents and youths in gangs has become a common phenomenon in many parts of the world. The presence of gangs dates back to the eighteenth century in countries such as the United States. Although large numbers of gangs are found in the urban areas, suburban areas, rural areas and small towns have also began experiencing the problem of youth gangs. Because adolescents like spending their time hanging out with their friends, juvenile delinquency which is often committed in a group leads to the formation of gangs.Due to the challenges that youths and adolescents encounter when growing up, some factors may increase the probability of becoming   gang members. In order to curb violence that is caused by gang members, many organizations in various countries have been formed to promote and coordinate efforts that support anti-gang strategies. Gang prevention, suppression and intervention strategies are very important in discouraging youths and adolescents from joining gangs. In this paper, factors that motivate young people to join gangs, activities undertaken by gangs and effective strategies that can solve the problem of youth gangs will be discussed.

Factors that motivate adolescents and youths to join gangs
Many youths and adolescents join gangs due to frustration, hopelessness and lack of an identity.  This can be attributed to the poverty and hopelessness that result from poor living standards and unemployment. When young people are unable to attain their psychological and physical needs, their pride and self worth is affected. This gives rise to a sense of hopelessness and lack for a purpose in life. Young people who are born and raised in poor families often feel frustrated and lack self confidence to improve their situation in life. This makes it easy for them to join gangs in order to get comfort from their peers in the gang who share similar problems. Furthermore, gangs that can help an individual to generate some income are usually very attractive to youths who are experiencing great financial problems. In many cases, youths and adolescents may feel that the problems that they experience leave them no choice but to join a gang. When their decision is based on this argument, they are compelled to join gangs because the idea of generating ones own income becomes overwhelming to some youths. This   is the reason why some youths become members of gangs that are involved in criminal activities that aim at generating some profit. Good examples are those gangs that are engaged in drug and arms trade, robbery and burglary. In some countries such as the united States, drug trafficking is promoted by the high number of drug users. Chicago and Los Angeles are two US cities where youth gang membership has been growing over the years. For example, in 1994, the two cities accounted for about 1,000 homicides.Young men and women who get recruited in the gangs find it rewarding when they sell arms or drugs to generate enough income to meet their needs.Unfortunately, many gang members in many cases end up being drug users. The use of drugs in adolescents and youths who are gang members has been linked to gang violence. Lack of purpose in life makes it very easy for the youths to be engaged in activities that harm other members of the society as well as themselves.
Youths and adolescents join gangs for self defense. In areas where there is a high level of insecurity, members of the society try to cope with the situation by defending themselves from the attackers .In the urban areas especially in shanties and slums and the areas surrounding them, there is a high level of insecurity due to the criminal activities that are witnessed .Robbery, rape and selling of drugs is common in areas where people live in extreme poverty as compared to other parts of a town or city. When some gang members give threats and become violent, the need for one to defend her or himself can compel some youths to join a gang. The members of rival gangs in an area have been   found to attack each other and sometimes kill to in order to intimidate others. Young people can therefore join gangs in order to defend themselves from the members of a gang that threatens them. When parents and guardians are unable to effectively monitor   the behavior of their children, the   possibility of getting involved in gangs without any detection is high. In addition, young people who live in gang prone neighborhoods and have their family members join gangs are likely to be motivated to join also. The fact that a family member belongs to a gang is a risk factor.
Discrimination and racism can increase the risk of young people joining a gang. The two promote systematic denial of privileges to a particular group of people. For instance, discrimination against a certain group of people in relation to the distribution of resources promotes hatred, hostility and poor relations between two groups. Because the youths and adolescents who belong to a discriminated group feel alienated, they can join gangs in order to create suffering for those they consider to be responsible their misfortunes, problems and suffering. Gang violence is a common phenomenon in many countries. Many gang members have been found to belong to families where they feel neglected.Furthemore, when the community fails to provide the youths and the adolescents with programs that act as an alternative to criminal activities and violence, the risk of becoming gang members increases. Statistics show that the age range of gang members is between 12 and 24 years. This confirms that many youths and adolescents who are gang members are engaged in criminal activities. Gang-related crime can be attributed to the proliferation of illegal weapons by the youth as well as drug abuse in schools.        
Gangs offer young people an opportunity to explore and search for the wrong solutions to their problems. The underclass status of minor groups in which some youths and adolescents belong to can push them to join gangs. This is because they feel marginalized and their effort to find a sense of identity takes the wrong direction. In addition, others consider a gang to be a group of young people which can assist them to solve problems that they are experiencing. For example, unemployment for the youth means that they cannot meet their needs and those who are not in school become idlers. As a result, getting engaged in the activities of a gang can be one way of finding temporary solutions to their problems. For example, the tribulations and trials of the adolescence can cause problems that a youth may try to solve by joining a gang. In some communities, young people may be coerced to join gangs even though they may not be interested in doing so. The youths may be born in families where some members have been involved in gangs hence relating with law-violating peers  or family members  makes it  easy for the youths to adopt deviant behaviour.For instance, peer pressure is considered to play a major role   in juvenile delinquency. The tendency of the young people to hang out together has great influence on their behavior because bad company means that the likelihood of one to engage in deviant behavior is very high (Miller, 1998).For example, having friends who use drugs and alcohol, engage in sexual activity at an early age or have anti-social behavior can have detrimental effects on a youth.                          
The media plays a vital role in the involvement of adolescents and youths in gangs. The media through movies and music motivate young people to join gangs when it fails to show the real dangers and threats that gangs pose to the youths. The desire to try out what they watch in movies encourages youths to become gang members because they do not fully understand the implications of   such a decision. Troubled family relationships, domestic violence and sexual abuse hinder proper development of a child .Children who grow up in abusive relationships have low self esteem. Problems at home may lead to poor performance at school and engagement of young people in crime and sexual activity at an early age. This increases the risk of youths joining gangs. Although youths are resilient and can resist joining gangs even when exposed to the risk factors, accumulation of risks increases the likelihood of joining gangs.

Types of Youth Gangs
Research studies show that different youths and adolescents join different types of gangs based on what they would like to achieve from becoming members. Corporate gangs in the society usually focus on generating money hence in this type of gang, there is a clear definition of division of labour.Criminal activities that corporate gang members get involved in are meant to secure financial rewards by generating profit. Good examples of such gangs are those gangs whose members sell drugs or engage in robbery to generate money. In the United States, some youth gangs have replaced traditional organized crime groups in cities. Young people who live  in  disadvantaged neighborhoods tend to stick together and are likely to  influence each other to join gangs when the opportunity to do so comes up.Territorial gangs on the other hand  operate within a given region or area. The gang members usually use violence either to protect or to secure any property that belongs to the gang. As compared to corporate gangs, territorial gangs lack a refined level of organization. A scavenger gangs are formed in order to offer their members some self-identity. They lack a complex organizational structure and in many cases, the crimes committed by the gang members seem senseless .The gang lacks well defined goals and objectives and therefore many of its members are often low achievers who choose to get into violent actions. Youth gangs use jewelry, colors, hair styles, hand-signals, slogans and graffiti for identification.

Activities that Youth gangs are engaged in
Many gang members are involved in drug trafficking and arms trade-In the United States, youth gang involvement in the sale of drugs in the 1980s can be attributed to the dramatic expansion of cocaine markets that was experienced then. As a result of the youth gangs involvement in the sale of drugs, members have been linked to gang violence. For   the gang members who are threatened by members of a certain gang, joining a rival gang becomes one of the ways of securing protection. Some youth gangs specialize in causing violence and studies that have been conducted in relation to youth violence indicate that   gang members have high levels of violence as compared to their delinquent peers who are not gang members. In the United Kingdom, a quarter of all gun crimes in 2007 were committed by youths under eighteen years. More than half of these crimes were gang-related, an indication that gang violence  cases are high.Group functions such as initiation in gangs are characterized by violence as a way of  strengthening the bond among gang members.Furthermore,some youth gangs support the use of violence for expression and  settling of disputes. The level of gang violence vary from one city or town to another and the youths and adolescents membership in gangs has led to gun ownership. Gang homicides take place in public settings and may involve drive-by shootings. The homicides promote retaliation attacks from other gangs, a situation that increases violence. Gang-related violence is meant to intimidate and increase fear among members of rival gangs. Some youth gangs may try to recruit members from schools when the need to do so arises.

Strategies that can help youths and adolescents from joining gangs
There are various strategies that can be used to prevent youths and adolescents from joining gangs. One of the most effective strategies is to educate the youth about the dangers of becoming gang members and increase public awareness on the issue of youth gangs. Another category of strategies comprises of intervention measures. These measures aim at assisting the youth to resist participating in crime. In addition, the strategies try to encourage youths who are already gang members to leave by offering them alternative solutions. For instance, counseling, conflict resolution, work study and after-school programs can assist the youth to keep away from gangs. Various programs  within the juvenile justice system should support  community based programs that can effectively address the issue of youth gangs.Suppression strategies can also be applied to  prevent the involvement of young people  in gangs. For example, procedures and policies to punish offenders or rehabilitate those who have already been involved in crime can be an effective solution to youth gangs. In cases where youths join gangs due to poverty caused by unemployment or unequal distribution of resources, creating employment for the youths and providing alternative activities to keep them busy can work well. There is need for governments to explore alternative and practical approach to the problem of youth gangs. The approach needs to integrate   intervention, control and prevention measures.

The involvement of adolescents and youths in gangs has become a serious problem in the society. Gang violence has young people engaged in illegal acts of violence against property, other people or rival gang members. There is need for the youths and adolescents to understand the implications of becoming gang members. Parents and guardians need to guide their children and monitor their behavior so that deviant behavior is corrected as early as possible. Although social agencies, government and schools have been interested in the issue, they have been unable to develop programs and policies that can effectively deal with the problem.


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