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Gangs, Capstone Project Example

Pages: 22

Words: 6107

Capstone Project

Abstract

Although crime control and the due process values usually exist at once in the U.S. criminal justice system, during certain periods and models takes main concern over the other. Generally, when crime rates are high, the public insists that law-keepers should “get tough on crime”, and the criminal justice system responds by favoring crime control values. When crime rates are in decline, law-keepers allow the court system to favor due process values. As in the beginning of 2011, however, the crime control/due process balance is in a flux. There are gangs presentall over the country. The growth of gangs in the USA is a topic unto itself. It is important that there are multiple perspectives, theories, and explanations of gangs and gang membership stemming from the contributions of sociology, psychology, criminology and justice.Their presence often leads to a crippling effect of fear and sometimes to denial. It is denial and fear that are causing problems in communities. Unless or until each community learns to deals with those effects, they will continue to see a rise in gang violence in schools, communities, and in prisons.

Introduction

It is an axiom to say that if crime has played any role in the birth of modern America, then it must have been punished, or one would not make the association. Nevertheless it is perhaps a statement worth making. This is a period when the whole business of legislation changed over the industrialized world. The law enforcement agencies were adopting new technologies, rationalizing, and standardizing. Perhaps because of its wild repute, perhaps because of its fascination with crime and the criminal, this is shown most clearly in America. It is glaringly demonstrated by the central nature of the figures of policing. The roles of America legislators are iconic across popular culture – from the legendary poses of the West; to the good “ol boy” Southern sheriff; to San Francisco, Chicago, and New York’s Finest; to Eliot Ness’ Untouchables (Kinnear, 2009, p. 10-15). So are the names of Alcatraz, Sing Sing, the Tombs, and San Quentin. It is not possible to imagine the immigrant colonies of Gilded Age New York without picturing the Irish cop on the street corner thwarting the activities of the Italian and Jewish gangs of street kids (Kinnear, 2009, p. 16). Popular images of the gangs of the 1920s always seem include a reference to the brutality of the regime in San Quentin or Alcatraz or the incompetence of the local police (p. 16). The images of the South seem invariably to include a chain gang in the background. Across the nation, the forces of law and justice were as indicative of the progress of the nation as the prairie sod-house and the skyscrapers of New York and Chicago (p. 16).

The growth of gangs in the USA is a topic unto itself. It is important that there are multiple perspectives, theories, and explanations of gangs and gang membership stemming from the contributions of sociology, psychology, criminology and justice. The topic is so expansive that there are many levels of disciplines that attempt to provide grounded theories and descriptions of gangs. Because of the role of gangs in crime, the majority of theories and descriptions of gang activity come from a legal and justice perspective. This paper reviews major theoretical perspectives on gangs from various disciplines but will seek to resolve the issues with the criminal justice. In sum, this paper proves, ‘gangs’ presence in the USA often leads to a crippling effect of fear and sometimes to denial. By suggesting that there are different degrees or types of gangs, such typologies suggest that different types of gangs pose different problems and require different solutions.

Critical Thoughts on Gangs

By the best research estimates available, about 6-8 percent of the general populace is gang-involved at any given time (NGIC, 2009). However, the demographic characteristics of street gang members vary relying heavilyon the data source. Law enforcement metaphors of gangs suggest that gang members are mainly male, adult, and minority organizations. Female gang members made up only about 10 percent of the national gang picture. White gang members are even rarer (almost 9 percent), and only about one-third are juveniles (NGIC, 2009).

Research has offered a rich description of the gang members and the dynamics of gang processes in America. Systematic research started with qualitative studies of gangs, such as Frederick Thrasher’s work in the late 1920s (Thrasher, 1927). Theories about gang structures were offered by sociologists like Richard Cloward and Lloyd Ohlin (1960), as well as Albert Cohen (1955). Gang research has significantly benefited from decades of qualitative accounts of the lives of gang members and group processes. Researchers like Martin Sanchez Jankowski (1991) and William Whyte (1981), for example, utilized a participant-observation technique. In other words, these researchers became involved in the everyday lives of gangs. Other in-depth accounts of gangs stem from authors’ experiences with gangs via intervention programs (e.g., Malcolm Klein, 1995,& James Shortand Fred L. Strodtbeck, 1974).

Qualitative research on gangs has provided some insights into the similarities and differences in various types of gangs. James Diego Vigil (1988) and Joan Moore (1978), for example, have painted the unique struggle of Chicago gangs for the past 30 years. Sheldon Zhang (2001) has illuminated Chinese gangs in America, which are rarely studied. Although he did not specifically implicate African American gangs, Elijah Anderson’s (1999) book Code of the Street is relevant to discussions regarding how attitudes and behavior may be affected by urban life.

The qualitative body of research is necessary, but generally only captures the experience of one or two gangs in one city (or in extraordinary cases, two or three cities) at a time. Qualitative studies have not utilized methods that allow for generalization of finding across gangs and/or research sites. This has led to an absence of any national picture of gangs.

Quantitative studies, however, have been employed to understand the extent and characteristics of gang memberships across the United States. Nationwide, quantitative studies are rare. One of the renowned is the National Youth Gang Survey (NYGS), conducted by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) (2008), which surveyed a representative model of law enforcement agencies about the gang problems in their jurisdictions. These data have been used to inform the prevalence of gangs and gang members, the areas in which they are common, and the demographic of gang members. In addition, researchers also have attempted to collect national data on gangs.

Egley et al (2010), for example, collected data from hundreds of police agencies in gang cities across the United States to under the formation of gangs. Media depictions of gangs often include an emphasis on gangs as organized, long-standing, hierarchical groups with established syndicates that spread across the nation. Their study did confirm “traditional” gangs, which are most often, captured by the media, as large, age-old, hierarchical gangs with a wide range of gang member ages. However, they also concluded that this type of gang formation only characterized 11 percent of the gangs that were reported across the country.

The most common formation of gangs were groups that had no formal organization (no subgroups), had less than 50 members, had been in existence for less than 10 years, had no pattern of territoriality, and had members around the same age. This gang formation accounted for 39 percent of the gangs reported (Egley, et al, 2010). A larger proportion of gangs were rather loosely structured groups of youths. Research also has shown that these types of gangs are more fluid than traditional, highly structured gangs. It is not rare for these forms of groups to dissipate to their own. This research also has shown that a majority of street gangs in the United States are not highly structured organizations, which makes the likelihood of successful criminal syndication unlikely. This is not to say that well-organized, criminal street gangs do not exist. They do, but they are the exception rather than the rule. Similarly, the notion of a transnational gang is also not the common gang structure.

The media also commonly report that gangs specialize in a particular crime. In particular, media reports on gangs often stress gang involvement in the drug trade. The research on gang structures found that most of the reported gangs by law enforcement did not specialize in their offending. Only 17 percent of them were classified as specialty gangs (Egley, et al, 2010). Research also has shown that a majority of street gangs in the United States are not highly structured organizations, which makes the likelihood of successful criminal syndication unlikely. This is not to say that well-organized, criminal street gangs do not exist. They do, but they are the exception rather than the rule. Similarly, the notion of a transnational gang, a gang that sends members across the globe to start new syndicates, is also not the common gang structure.

Legal Positions Regarding Criminal Justice and Gangs

Gang members commit a substantial amount of crime, which has been shown using both self-reported and official measures of crime. Studies have consistently shown that gang members commit more delinquency than non-gang members (Travis, 2011, p. 445). They also commit more violent crime than non-gang members. In one sample of youths, for example, approximately 30 percent of the youths reported gang involvement, but reported committing 68 percent of all violent crimes and 86 percent of all serious offenses reported by the entire youth sample (Travis, 2011, p. 446).

While gang members commit more violent crime than non-gang members, this is not to suggest that every gang is committing multiple violent crimes on an annual basis. Most jurisdictions with gang reports no more than one or two gang-related homicides a year. Larger cities report more homicides than smaller cities, but even most large cities report less than three gang homicides per year. Los Angeles and Chicago are two gang cities that are the exception to this rule. These two are the most heavily populated with street gangs and can report hundreds of gang homicides each year.

Researchers have also examined whether gang members are more delinquent and thereby seek out other people like them, or whether entrance into the gang increases delinquent behavior. Longitudinal research conducted by Pollock (2011, p. 243) on gang offending shows that it is a bit of both. Gang membership increases serious and violent offending in an individual who is an active member, but even after a member leaves the gang, their reported offending is still higher than non-gang members (p. 250). They are more delinquent than delinquent youths who have non-gang delinquent friends. Pollock (2011, p. 250) also shows that non-gang youths who associate with gang friends are more likely to offend than non-gang youths who do not have gang friends. In sum, involvement or association with gangs significantly increases participation in criminal behavior.

Gangs and gang members may be responsible for a significant amount of crime, but most do not specialize in their type of offending. Gang members may shoplift, commit robbery, and participate in gang-on-gang violence. The exception may be juvenile tagging crews, who vandalize public spaces. These groups often engage solely in vandalism and are not usually included in studies of street gangs.

Gang Concepts

According to Barry Goldson (2011, p. 198), the concept of the gang in the USA is highly debatable and controversial one and, to put it more simply, the research community is divided. On the one hand, it is claimed that gangs comprise a very specific type of social problem that must be studied in detail if prevention strategies are to be successfully employed. From this very perspective, an effective and appropriate response to gangs and gang issues requires a thorough assessment of local communities and careful appraisal of what is happening at neighborhood level. Intervention is generally directed at the gang itself, since this is seen as, in essence, the key problem. For other researchers, however, the complexities of gang life and gang formation preclude a traditional criminological analysis or criminal justice response(Goldson, 2011, p. 198).

Organizationally, the growing importance attached to the study of gangs is reflected in the formation of the Eurogang Research Network, with participation from over 20 different countries, including leading gang researchers from the United States (Aldridge& Medina, 2007). Similarly, Squires and Keninson (2010)argued that the number of publications deriving from gang research in recent years attests to the continuing and consolidating interest in gangs in various countries and continental regions. A number of key themes and contentions typify the research literature that is growing (although to whom they are a problem is subject to debate); gangs are spreading across the regions (both urban and rural) and across nation-state borders; gangs stem from, and represent, significant social changes within different national contexts (particularly shifting economic regimes and changing immigration patterns); gangs demand varying but integrated responses from both national and local state agencies and related authorities (although whether they are, or should be, the targets or the beneficiaries of state intervention is also open to debate).

Notwithstanding the increasing interest in the study of gangs, however, not everyone is convinced that the actual term “gang” is appropriate or that gang research is necessarily desirable or socially progressive. Critical commentators in the USA, for example, have questioned both the “gang” concept and the trend to base research on mainstream (even populist) conceptualizations and constructions of the “gang” (Hallsworth, & Young, 2008, p. 175-195). Clare Alexander (2008) argued that a key criticism is that contemporary gang analysis blurs the complex and nuanced distinctions between youth groups, street gangs, and organized crime. In so doing, such approaches typically serve to entrench racialized connotations (wittingly or otherwise), whereby the “gang” becomes a coded reference to black, minority ethnics and immigrant youth. Gang analysis and intervention is thus seen to apply to, and problematize, particular minority ethnic groups in ways and forms that ultimately invoke police attention and coercive intervention. Thus individual pathology – rather than systemic marginalization and structural shifts in political economy – is emphasized which, in turn, feeds processes of criminalization and the moral panics that accompany them.

There are also fundamental differences and debates concerning research methodologies and forms of data collection pertaining to gangs (Spergel, 2009). A key example of this relates to the development and use of gang databases in the USA that, according to some, allow modes of legislated data collection that are over-inclusive and stigmatizing of young people. The operational definition of “gangs” are thus highly politicized when linked to the question of government intervention, policy and social control and here too academics are implicated (Spergel, 2009). Indeed, US-style gang research – which heavily influences the methods presently being adopted – tends to be favored strongly positivist in orientation, whereby quantitative investigation is favored, databases are established and particular political understandings and interventions flow from them (Spergel, 2009).

Meanwhile, some sociologists prefer to actually engage in close-up, firsthand observation of where people live in order to discern what they actually do with their time and to understand the values and meanings that they attribute to their complex social realities (Carlie, 2002). The central part of argument here is that the “social problem” of gangs is structurally generated, but dominant conceptualizations erroneously see it in terms of criminological tendencies, individual pathology, moral breakdown, and crude positivist demographic causation. This denies dynamic social processes that also implicate power, for example, police discretion, brutality, and neoliberal economics. Those who do get close to the complex realities, and who critique conventional understanding and associated criminal justice interventions, are often considered as “rogue sociologists”, who are judged withsuspicion if not outright hostility by those with at stake in maintaining the status quo (Carlie, 2002).

If attention is focused uncritically on a ‘problem’, then the ‘problem’ will more often than not appear to be real. This is one of the core dilemmas of gang research. For those who see gangs as a bona fide area of public concern, the recognition of gangs is a basic starting point for intervention and crime prevention. For others, who view gang discourse itself as part of the problem, the agenda becomes very different. In particular, the stigmatizing impact of gang labels and the potential for unwarranted group profiling on the part of the justice authorities are seen to be especially questionable. In sum, both gang as concept and gang research as social process; continue to be the subject of major ongoing debates. The doing of gang research is thus fraught with a number of ethical, political, methodological and conceptual frameworks.

Aside from a broad focus on youth groups, the definition of a gang has been debated since the earliest qualitative work on street gangs. In short, interested parties have not been able to come to a consensus regarding what characteristics of gangs are common enough to be shared among all gangs, but specific enough to distinguish gangs from any other group. This is particularly challenging when decades of research shows that most youths who engage in crime do so during adolescence, and usually in groups. So, what distinguishes a group of delinquent friends from a street gang?

In the USA, where youth gang culture is a serious problem, the U.S. national report conducted by Synder and Sickmund (2006) found that 8 percent of 17-year-olds reported belonging to a gang, 16 percent had sold drugs and 16 percent carried a gun. In addition, a quarter of these juveniles who offended at ages 16 to 17 continue to offend as adults at ages 18 to 19. Even though the proportion of young people in a gang seems to be a minority, they are responsible for a disproportionately high share of violent and non-violent offences in the USA. Indeed, those who have friends or families in a gang were more than three timesto report “engagingin vandalism, a major theft, a serious assault, carrying a gun, selling and using drugs and running away from home”. Similar findings were also reported in the US national report on juvenile offending about why they joined a gang. Over half (54 percent) of Rochester gang members said that they followed the lead of friends or family members who preceded them, only 19 percent said they joined for protection and 15 percent said it was for fun or excitement (Synder, & Sickmund, 2006). Furthermore, those who were neither in school nor in employment had a considerably greater possibility of engaging in several gang-related behaviors such as using and selling drugs, committing a major theft or a serious assault, and carrying a gun.

Types Of Gangs In The USA

Gangs have been prevalent across many societies and time periods: they “no longer start and stop with local conditions but must also be rooted in the global context” (Wolf, 2010). Types of gangs vary widely throughout the USA. Gangs can form based on locations, religious views, blood “type”, race, presence in an institution, and an array of other factors.

Taylor (1990)also offers a typology of gangs based on the motivational factors underlying the gang behavior. While some gangs center on protecting territory, others may exist to make money for its members. Using types of gangs negates the need for a single definition. Sociologist Mike Carlie (2002) asserts that gang initiation is an urban rite of passage for at-risk youth to be formally inducted as a gang member. Prior to initiation, the inductee often memorizes basic gang principles, codes of conduct, hand signals, and symbols often reached to as “knowledge”. He (2002) described the most common initiation strategies utilized by nationally based gangs are subdivided into the following categories: assault, homicide, sexual relations, larceny, and nonviolent methods.

Few social issues are more troubling than that of gangs and their impact on the whole society. Early views on gangs and gang members depicted these individuals as outcasts of society who banded together to cause trouble. The perception of youth gang members was aptly depicted in Charles Dicken’s Oliver Twist(1838) whose characters were a group of orphans living on the street, stealing food, and snatching wallets and pursues in order to survive. In present-day, when people think about a gang, they typically picture notorious groups like the Crips, the Bloods, and perhaps even the Hell’s Angels (Seelke, 2007). Yet sociologist Mike Carlie believes that most people identify gangs and their members with an exaggerated, sensationalized image (Carlie, 2002). The modern image of a street gang has, in some form, been influenced by the media which has not adequately reflected the character of the problem. Life as a gang banger has often been glamorized by the entertainment industry with some characters becoming popular cultural icons (e.g., Tupac Shakur). Movies and songs about gang life, like Gangsta’s Paradise, have popularized the notion of gangs within American culture. Hardcore rap artists often rap about revolutions and killing. This music has integrated itself with the hip-hop scene and is in great demand from mainstream adolescents. But in spite of this more romanticized view of gangs, the reality is that gangs have an extremely damaging impact on both individual and society. Members often become involved with a gang at an early age and the course of their lives is dangerously directly or indirectly controlled by their affiliation with a gang. In sum, the eventual outcome for the individuals is catastrophic.

Statistical Information

The extent of gang presence throughout the United States is very difficult to gauge, particularly given the varied definitions once use to identify a “gang”. Perhaps the earliest study of gangs identified 1,313 gangs with roughly 25,000 members in Chicago (Thrasher, 1927). These gangs were comprised mostly of adolescent males and usually ranged in size from 6 to 20 members, although some had as few as two to three members and others numbered more than 100. The great number of gangs in part reflected the fact that Thrasher considered almost any consistent grouping of youths (what he referred to as “play groups”) to be a gang. Based on the data from six U.S. cities in the 1970s, Miller (2001) estimated the number of gangs and gang members. His top estimate for these cities was 2,700 gangs with roughly 81,300 members. Research since the 1970s, relying primarily on the National Youth Gang Survey (NYGS) of law enforcementdepartments, suggests that the gang problem is large and appears in every state and in cities of every size (Pitts, 2007).

The complete statistics in the United States are not known, with available figures being little more than wild “estimates”. A March 1998 article in the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) publications noted that more than 16,000 gangs “with at least half a million members” exist (cited in Barrows & Huff, 2009). According to the OJJDP (2008, p. 1), there are 26,500 gangs in the United States, with approximately 785,000 gang members. Law enforcement departments across the country reported higher levels of gang involvement in auto thefts, assaults, burglaries, vandalisms and graffiti, and illegal drug sales. According to a research conducted by the National Gang Intelligence Center (NGIC), criminal gangs are held liable for almost 80 percent of the street crimes in America (NGIC, 2009, p. 8-9). Another most recent estimate indicates there are nearly 28,000 gangs with about 774,000 members (Egley, et al, 2010, p. 1).Although one does not know the exact extent of gang participation, what one does know that gangs are common, and they exists in all 50 U.S. states.

One of the most well-known gangs of Los Angeles, the Crips was reportedly found by Raymond Washington in 1968 (Covey, 2010). At the time many black youths were ostracized from organizations like Boy Scouts because of race, and began to form their own gangs. Washington originally started a gang known as the “Baby Avenues” but after a clash with anassociate gang member, split off to form his own gang (Covey, 2010). Currently, it is estimated that there are over 800 sets of Crips gangs that have spread to many parts of the USA, most notably in big urban centers. It is noted that some gangs in various cities take on the name of the Crips, even without any affiliation, to try to enhance their status (Covey, 2010).Another gang, named The Bloods, primarily evolved in response to the Crips. This group originally known as the Piru street gang began to ally with other smaller gangs to assert their influence and compete with the Crips, who, in the early 1970s in Los Angeles, outnumbered other gangs 3-1 (Wolf, 2010). To assert their power and influence, members of the Bloods became increasingly violent, especially when warring against members of the Crips (Wolf, 2010). To this day they are considered one of the more violent gangs, with their trademark being the use of knives and razors often for initiation purposes, hence the referral to the name Bloods. Like many gangs, recruitment focuses on youth living in impoverished neighborhoods. The gangs offer a sense of protection, a sense of belonging, and the promise of power and riches. The Bloods have their unique dress style which almost always involves the color red. A prominent sign among the Bloods is a crossed out C which serves as a form of disrespect toward the Crips (Wolf, 2010).

Another gang named The Almighty Latin King and Queen Nation (ALKQA)originally emerged out of Chicago in the 1940s where small groups of Puerto Rico and Mexican male youths organized in order to protect their neighborhoods (Wolf, 2010). The impetus behind this gang was to fight against the oppression and discrimination felt by Latino minorities. The name refers to a uniting of all individuals of Latino heritage. The ALKQA is believed to be a Chicago’s largest gang with over 25,000 members in the city alone. In addition, this gang is known for its strong organization, structure, and harsh discipline of its members. This gangstresses fundamentalmain beliefs ofrespect, honesty, unity, knowledge, and love among members, with these principles forming the five points to the crown that symbolizes their gang” (Wolf, 2010).

Salvadoran migrants who had escaped El Salvado’s civil fighting established the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) gang in Los Angeles during the 1980s (Seelke, 2007). These migrants found difficult work and social conditions in Los Angeles, particularly with the city’s established gangs including African Americans in the Crips or Bloods, and Mexican-Americans or illegal Mexican immigrants in the EME, also known as the Mexican Mafia (Bruneau, 2005). As membership is dynamic, and census taking its rudimentary, numbers are around 7,000 in El Salvador, 20,000 in the USA (Bruneau, 2005). The gang identifies itself through written and hang signaled language, as well as tattoos. However, it most distinguishes itself through its use of violence, a theme intimately wrapped within its discipline and hierarchy, from membership initiation to leadership ascension.

There are many other notable gangs throughout the USA that are not possible to present in this paper. Some of these gangs, like the Wah Ching gang from southern California, have become well known for their violence and criminal behavior. In sum, the roots of most well known gangs indicate they are established to retaliate against the violence from other gangs and become involved in drug trafficking and criminal activity.

Legal Implications

Many states do not legally define a gang, and those states that do have a definition do not often use the same definition. As legal ramifications for gang membership have become more severe, courts have demanded an unambiguous definition of a gang to protect the constitutional rights of gang members. One example that has withstood court challenge defines a gang as three or more people with the commission of crime as their “primary” activity, and that have a common name, or identifying symbol. The influence of street gangs increased at alarming rate, menacing neighborhoods, communities, and terrorizing the helpless (Carlie, 2002).

Law enforcement and intelligence community missions addressed new priorities. A renewed emphasis on addressing organized criminal enterprise impacted the United States. International and nationwide gangs propagated throughout the USA. The influence of street gangs increased at alarming rate, menacing neighborhoods, communities, and terrorizing the helpless.

Gang members are the most likely to own guns and recruit youths who already own guns, and are more likely to carry guns that are non-gang youths (Decker, 2007). There is evidence that possession of guns and weapons is a better explanation of victimization than gang membership. Whether or not youths belong to gangs, those who carry firearms are more likely to be crime sufferers than those who do not (Spano et al, 2008).

Many gang members use and sell drugs, and that the sale of drugs is an integral part of some organized gangs. The degree to which gangs are involved in drugs, however, is highly variable. Recent research, conducted by Bellair and McNulty (2009), suggests that gang members who sell drugs engage in more violence than those who do not sell drugs. Despite these findings, there is no doubt that conflicts over drugs and sales territories do escalate to violence.

The FBI goal is to collect, analyze and disseminate intelligence to support law enforcement efforts to identify gang hierarchies and to more effectively direct law enforcement resources to crush gang organizations. States also began developing gang legislation to combat gang at the state level. Law enforcement and schools joined prevention programs: D.A.R.E. added a gang lesson; G.R.E.A.T. was developed to deal with gang prevention. The G.R.E.A.T. middle-school program taught by local law enforcement officers is the only gang prevention programs that ahs been evaluated by rigorous methodological standards and found to be promising or effective. When the program underwent a curriculum redesign that was fully implemented in 2002, a new evaluation of the program started in 2006 andcontinued working in2011 (FBI, 2011). Short-term results from the evaluation of the revised program have shown that program participants report lower rates of gang membership and delinquency. Information is presently being collected to find out if the program has long-term effects.

Recommendations and Conclusions

Direct law enforcement action is only one way to combat crime. Another way is to deter criminal behavior by enacting laws that raise the “cost” of committing a crime at first hand. Four U.S. States – California, Florida, Indiana, and Missouri – have recently passed legislation making those individuals involved in gang-related murders eligible for the death penalty (Egley, et al, 2010).

Jurisdictions can also pass legislation to control criminal behavior that may not be criminal in it but can lead to future crime. Several communities have “antiloitering” laws that permit police to disperse groups of people on public sidewalks and arrest those who raise specific suspicions. The U.S. Supreme Court, however, struck down a Chicago ordinance that prohibited citizens from grouping “with no apparent purpose” because it gave law enforcement officers too much freedom to decide whether a suspect’s purpose was apparent or not. Such laws are too similar in spirit to an operation like Super Mano Duto (Egley et al, 2010).

Finally, sometimes the criminal justice system turns to supplementary areas of the law for help. For instance, many members of MS-13 and other predominantly Hispanic street gangs have violated U.S. immigration law by entering the nation illegally. Thus, FBI officials can use the “immigration hammer” to detain these suspects without providing that they have committed any crime. Then, instead of going through the costly and lengthy process of a criminal trial, authorities can simply return the gang members to their homelands. Certainly, this policy has negative ramifications for countries such as El Salvador, which once again must deal with an onslaught of hardened criminals. It may also have an impact on the fight against terrorist. American and foreign officials fear that groups such as Al Qaeda will seek out MS-13 and other gangs from Central America and Mexico. After all, many of the gangs’ members have made successful clandestine cross of the U.S. border and might be willing to help others do so for the right price.

Although there have been a great deal of interest and research in gang activity, no single, generally accepted definition of a gang has been developed yet. As Decker (2007) recognizes severalfactors that are most common to most definitions. These elements are a group, symbols, communication, permanence, turf, and criminal behavior. Gangs are also more common in poor, disorganized areas of the community. While there is no shortage of motivation to combat the problem and numerous programs and policies have been designed, there have been very few success stories. The results of gang policies and programs may seem disheartening. The fact is that few stories that target gang prevention, intervention, or suppression have been found to be effective. This is large part because most policies, especially suppression, have not been evaluated for effectiveness. Those that have been evaluated have not been tested with enough methodological rigors to make causal statements about program effect; that is, they cannot eliminate the possibility that a non-program related factor was the actual cause of the observed program effect.

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