Development and Influence of Gangs, Research Paper Example

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Research Paper

The history of gangs in the United States dates back to around 1783, at the end of the American Revolution.  In addition, the growth of gangs was reported to have emerged in the eastern United States cities due to the dense communities of immigrants within the cities. The first well organized gang was reported in 1823 in New York City y and by the 1930s, gang activity spread to the surrounding boroughs in New York as Latino and Africans began to migrate to the United States. It has been indicated that there are three factors responsible for the emergence of street gangs in New York City: 1) the social disorganization in poor areas, 2) the establishment of grocery stores, and 3) the involvement of politicians in the gangs. (Howell and Moore, 2010)  In addition, the early New York gangs were comprised mostly of individuals of Irish decent, followed by Italian and Jewish gangs.  Furthermore, the earliest gangs noted were not criminal groups, but common laborers.  The gangs were described as a “basic unit of social life among males in New York in the nineteenth century (Howell and Moore, 2010). As time progressed and following World War II, more gangs emerged in other eastern United States cities and by the 1990s, due to the increasing immigration of different ethnic backgrounds.  There was then an increase in American youth formed gangs in order to dominate the changing neighborhoods and establish ownership of the community or area.  In fact, by 2008, there were around 640 gangs in the New England area alone. (Howell and Moore, 2010) The current paper investigates the key historical events that shaped U.S. gangs and the social influence of the development of current gangs in the United States. In addition, the paper analyzes specific psychological concepts that influence individuals to join gang, as well as analyzes challenges law enforcement are faced with in regard to increasing gang activity.

One historical gang that shaped the organized crime scene was recognized during the 1920s as the Al Capone gang.  It was noted that street gangs emerged from the type of gang Al Capone formed.  White ethnic immigrants who were part of the organized crime gangs were able to move out of the downtown areas into suburban areas and into better social and economic situations, left the crime gangs behind with them as well. This left room for the African American influx of immigrants and gangs. (Howell and Moore, 2010) On the western side of the United States, there was an increase in the immigration of Mexicans due the Mexican Revolution during the 1910’s. This brought the street gangs of Mexican origin to Los Angeles and other Western cities. The barrios, was established in Los Angeles during this time and the gang became isolated with cultural, racial, and socioeconomic influences. In addition, the first African gangs formed in the 1940’s in Los Angles due to white youth racial violence in the schools. In the 1960s, the 18th Street gang formed due to the rejection of individuals who could not prove to be 100% Mexican. This gang is considered to be the largest Hispanic gang in the United States, as well as internationally.

There has been research conducted in order to investigate the reasons why individuals participate or join gangs. Most research has focused on adolescents and the link of youth violence, crime, and drugs to gang membership  (Howell, 1997) The initial theory for gang membership was hypothesized to be referred to as control theory, as a result of social disorganization due to slum type living areas.Control theory suggests that individuals join gangs due to the lack of social control. This theory was developed because as seen throughout history, gang membership developed in slum city conditions in all different types of cultures. The social disorganization concept correlates social disadvantage and economic disadvantage with gang membership.  (Hill et al., 1999)

Other psychological theorists relate gang membership to adaptation to structural processes  The structural process theory suggests that individuals are not able to reach normal types of opportunities which lead to frustration, further leading to antisocial behavior and illegal involvement. (Hill et al., 1999) Through this theory there were several factors linked to individuals in gangs versus non-gang members. Factors such as neighborhoods, access to drugs, financial status, school commitment, association with delinquent peers, and positive outlooks on gang membership.  (Hill et al., 1999)

Another theory links gang membership with personal needs. It is suggested that gang membership originates from the desire to have a sense of community structure, self-esteem, self-recognition, sexual identity and individual morals. The psychological emphasis, however, is focused on the role of the individual’s needs, feelings and thoughts. The theory stresses that individuals who join gangs do so in order to meet their individual needs in order to feel like a competent person, self-determined and important to others. (Center for Mental Health in Schools at LA, 2007) Thornberry (1998) found that risk factors, such as antisocial behavior, low achievement in school, low morals and society standards, association with delinquent peers, and positive outlook towards drug use was correlated with gang membership.  In overview, all gang related theories seem to overlap to social environment and individual needs.

There are several challenges in which law enforcement agencies are faced with in regard to gang activity, immigration being a major concern. Immigration from Latin America and Asia has brought and created dangerous gangs, particularly Mara Salvatrucha. It has been recognized that the Mara Salvatruch 13 individuals are involved with multiple criminal activities and are not afraid of the law.  In fact, it has been indicated that the Mara Salvatruch will undergo any type of crime such as burglaries, automobile thefts, drug sales and smuggling, weapon sales and smuggling, carjacking, murder, extortion, physical assaults, and rapes. (Howell, 2006)

In addition to immigration as a source to the increase in gang members and formation of the Mara Salvatruch 13, the United States law enforcement developed deportation policies. During the 1990s, the United States began to identify and deport all undocumented individuals and legal non-citizen convicts as they finished their prison sentences. The increase in the deportation of these individuals led to the spread of the gangs, their gang style, and their strong influence in the United States, thereby creating gangs in their home country. (Howell, 2006)

Law enforcement agencies are also placed with the challenge of returning gang members from prison release.  Recent studies have found that there is an increase in the number of inmates that are released on a daily basis.  The inmates who are released return to their gangs due to the lack of preparation to return to society.  These inmates are reported to be contributing to and influencing the increase in violent crimes.  In fact, an Illinois study found that of 2,500 inmates, 2000 were gang members and more than half of the gang member inmates re-entered the prison system within two years.  (Howell, 2006)

In reviewing literature obtained for this paper, there are a few statements that are disagreeable. For one, in regard to the paper on the history of gangs in the United States, Howell and Moore (2010) stated the following: “Gangs more territorially structured than the palomilla and cholo groups were populated by second-generation children of Mexican Americans who gathered in groups to “give themselves emotional and psychological support in a defeating world”.  Although it is implied that Mexican Americans were out-casted in the United States, the author does not support this statement.  There are no indications of how the Mexican Americans were alienated in the United States and why it was so emotional and psychologically stressful to resort to gangs. In addition, Howell (2006) stated, “It is widely recognized that national prison data seriously underestimates the proportion of all inmates that are gang-involved”.  However, Howell (2006) does not provide support for this statement. Who widely recognizes this as a problem and how?Furthermore, in the paper by Hill et al. (1999) the authors stated “youth who engage in gang delinquency are behaving in a manner consistent with lower-class culture”. This statement is more like a stigma attached to individuals born in lower class environments and places suggests that all people in this environment are gang members or delinquents.

Although there were a few statements that were disagreeable within the literature reviewed, there were many statements that were agreeable and supportive of social psychological theories. Hill et al. (1999) stated “It is imperative to learn why youth join gangs to better understand how to prevent them from joining gangs, but this question has not been well studied.” It is necessary for more research to be conducted in order to obtain a better understanding, as well as more ideas on prevention. In addition, Howell (2006) stated, “More people are leaving prison today than at any time in history, and many lack preparation for life on the outside”. This statement brings awareness to the causes for the recycling of inmates.

From these statements, ideas can be comprised in order to socially help individual gang members.  For instance, perhaps the implementation of more Boys and Girls Clubs in areas where gang activity is high could help deter youth to these clubs and sports instead of street gangs. In addition, more action should be taken in the preparation for the release of gang members out of prison.  Workshops and training should be implemented into prison in order to prepare these individuals.

Law enforcement agencies can also help with these gang problems.  Law agencies can participate in the implementation of programs in prisons.  It should be made mandatory for inmates to enter classes or workshops while in prison and when released. A major factor to gang activity is immigration. Politicians and law making officials should strongly enforce the need for a more strict policy on immigration.  Not only should criminal non-citizens be deported, other non-gang member citizens should be deported as well in order to decrease immigration.

Gang activity has been a part of the United States since the American Revolution. The influence of gangs has been determined to have several social psychological concepts attached, such as social disorganization, structural process and social needs.In addition, there are several challenges that our law enforcement agencies are dealt with in regard to gang activity. A combination of social psychological concept research and law enforcement against gangs can help find a solution to gang membership and deter youth from joining these gangs.

References

Center for Mental Health in Schools at UCLA. (2007). Youth Gangs and Schools. Los Angeles,CA: Author.

Hill, K.G., Howell, J.C., Hawkins, J.D., Battin-Pearso, S.R. (1999).  Childhood Risk Factors For

Adolescent Gang Membership: Results from the Seattle Social Development Project.  Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency.  36(3):300-322.

Howell, J. and Morre, J.P.  (2010).  History of Street Gangs in the United States. U.S.Department of Justice.  National Gang Center Bulletin.  4:4-25.

Howell, James C. 1997. Youth Gang Violence Prevention and Intervention: What Works.Report to the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention

Thornberry, T.P. (1998). Membership in youth gangs and involvement in serious and violent offending. In R. Loeber and D.P. Farrington (Eds.), Serious and violent juvenile offenders: Risk factors and successful interventions. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications. (pp. 147–166)

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