Street gangs have over the years evolved to become great contributors to crime and violence within the worlds cities. This means that it is a major concern of the criminal justice department to deal with the subject of gangs in order to effectively reduce crime. Since their inception at the beginning of the 19 century, gangs have been responsible for criminal activities and violent power struggles that left many people dead and others severely injured. The extent to which gangs are responsible for the actions of their members is considerable despite the tendency of the law to hold individuals accountable for their actions. This means that while punishing the individuals is effective for the judicial system there needs to be a more comprehensive approach towards putting an end to the involvement of gangs in the lives of individual members. So far, according to Klein Maxson (2010), there are a number of gang reduction models that have been deployed by various authorities and, yet gangs continue to not only exist, but also thrive attributing to more than 10% of crimes in the cities. The use of former gang members as interventionists, community outreach programs and rehabilitation opportunities for those who are willing to abandon gang activities are only a few of these models and they are discussed extensively in this paper along with their triumphs and shortcomings. This paper examines the findings on gang reduction models with respect to preventing individuals from joining gangs or participating in criminal activities and violent street collisions like gang wars.
Gang Development Overview
Gatti et al., (2005) note that initially gangs were known to operate within shorter radii, meaning that each part of a city was expected to have its own gang. This means that gangs were limited by geographical locations. Over the years however this has changed in that gangs are limited neither by state, national nor continental boundaries. The Russian Mob, for example, operates across Europe and America as well as Australia and Asia. Gangs are formed for many reasons and in the end the only thing that makes them similar is their tendency to engage in criminal undertakings and violent confrontations that usually result in deaths and injuries.
Considering the studies on how these gangs are formed, Cullen, Agnew Wilcox (2013) found out that over 5% of the youth ended up in a gang, especially those aged 12-17. They are drawn to a gang as a form of protection, due to peer pressure or due to the need to belong to something bigger than just themselves. In one way or another, a gang is like a family for an individual who would otherwise feel abandoned and alone in a dangerous world. These studies also show that there are a number of risk factors that increase ones likelihood of joining a gang; one of the factors is location, where high-risk areas are mostly the low-income areas in big cities. Gangs are thus mostly groups of young people with a common factor which, in most cases, distinguishes them from the rest of the community implying either school or family based on their inability to respect those in authority and live under societal rules.
Numerous scholars in this field have sought out to explain why gangs form from a psychological, social and criminological perspective and it can be stated that there are so many facets of gang formation that it is often difficult to generalize about what motivates them. Some gangs are were formed as a result of grievances that prompted retaliation while others were just as a result of fraternization amongst students with similar problems at school or at home or even both. Other gangs were formed as a result of social movements against oppressive law enforcement units. All that is needed to form a gang is motivation and commitment of a few adolescents. Moreover, as a gang grows, they become bolder and more vigilant to the point that they start to engage in criminal activities in a bid to establish control over a specific territory. This later culminates into gang wars in the event that there are other gangs within the same area and the younger gang ends up having to step up in order not to be suppressed by its rivals.
Gangs grow into units of organized crime as they get more members and increase their moneymaking capacity. From the inception of gangs, the need to take care of their members was a central agenda as this is how they manage to attract new members. Belonging to a gang is thus like belonging to a family and the more the gang makes money and takes care of its members the more it is seen to be proficient and effective. As a result, organized crime is by far the most lucrative business of any gang given its need to make money and stay on top of its game. According to studies on street gangs, a gang that is unable to protect its members would be considered weak and thus attacked by its rivals who attempt to poach members by offering them a safer and more interesting life. Crime is thus more of a competition and lifestyle for these gangs.
Effectiveness of the Research
Over the past years studies have been conducted with the aim of understanding gangs and preventing the youth from joining them, thus reducing the criminal activity of the known gang members and mitigating gang wars and street collisions, in which a lot of innocent people get hurt or killed. Trying to understand these gangs, Kubrin, Stucky Krohn (2008) established that each gang is relatively unique in its inclination towards crime. While almost all gangs participate in criminal activities in one way or another, their motivation or the way they start out is often determined by their situation and why or how they were formed in the first place. Thus understanding the specific circumstances of a given gang is the most effective way of understanding various issues and prevention models that would work for its members.
Research in this area is thus only effective if it is considered as specific for a particular gang. In most cases, research studies are done generally in a city or in a number of cities with the aim of understanding gang trends in that location. This implies that scholars tend to think that being within the same geographical location would mean that gangs have the same motivation and perception of crime. This is however not the case and thus most studies on gang-related crime lack required results and extent to which they can inspire governments to come up with effective anti-gang strategies. Assumptions about why various gang members join the gangs may be replicable across the board but motivation behind the involvement in crime may not be as simplistic as such. Some gangs involve in criminal activities to make money, others to build a reputation of danger to fend off rivals, and others even to declare their presence within their area and to avoid confrontations with the society and law enforcement agencies. Other gangs are just comprised of rowdy individuals with a knack for violence and these cannot stay away from crime.
Over the past few years, Klein Maxson (2010) argued that scholars were so focused on the subject of gangs and crime that they approached the gangs as a whole rather than examining individual characteristics of each gang in order to understand their trends in relation to criminal involvement across the world. At this point, it can be stated that gangs are groups of individuals with distinguishable circumstances which cannot be understood from a generalized context. As such, the current research findings have not been exactly effective in pinpointing factors of gangs` formation that would enable their suppression and eventual elimination. This is why the number of young people joining gangs is constantly increasing despite the efforts to deter them from doing this. The prevention strategies only seem to work for short intervals before things go back to normal with even more gang recruits than anticipated.
Gang Prevention Strategies
In his analysis, Howell (2010) established that an efficient gang reduction approach must employ three prevention strategies. This approach must aim at preventing the youth from joining gangs, reducing criminal activity of the known gang members and intervening to mitigate gang wars. In order to reduce domination of gangs, these models recommend an outreach that would sensitize the youth to the cons of joining these gangs and thus reduce the number of members of the gangs. This would greatly impact their domination given that they thrive in numbers and are thus constantly seeking out new members to partake in their activities. Limiting their ability to expand implies limiting their power and their operations.
The second strategy involves acknowledgement of the existing gang members and reaching out to them to suppress them. Sometimes belonging to a gang does not compel one to be a criminal, and the key here is to discourage the gang members from partaking in criminal activities without pressuring them to leave the gangs. Being silent is a good step for gang members towards leaving the gang and in this case it is considered a bold move. In regard to the gang reduction model, this strategy ensures that the number of gang members who are willing to partake in crime is greatly reduced thus making the gang more harmless with respect to its criminal activities.
Cureton (1999) confirms that the most common source of violence in these gangs is rival confrontations and a prevention strategy should involve mediation between the warring gangs to prevent violent collisions. Gangs are often at loggerheads over territorial issues and misunderstandings amongst the members and in most cases they are unable to sort out their differences without become violent. The gang reduction model emphasizes peaceful coexistence between the gangs and this requires a neutral mediator to ensure that there are no conflicts being resolved violently. This implies that in the event of an impending conflict between two or more gangs, the responsible authority needs to be willing to play the role of a mediator in order to avoid a collision.
Effectiveness and Shortcomings
The first strategy aimed at gang reduction is to discourage the youth from joining gangs. In most cases, it is established that while joining a gang is not exactly hard, leaving it is often impossible given the dangers involved. Preventing the youth from pledging into these gangs is thus a very effective gang-reduction approach as they are saved from joining the vicious cycle of violence and crime at an early age. The problem here, however, is that there are a number of cases where individuals do not join a gang by choice but rather as a result of numerous environmental and social factors. Unless the interested authority is able to control these factors, individuals are still compelled to join gangs for protection, sustenance, acceptance and/or power. The psychological factors that contribute to gang membership must be considered and addressed if this model is to work.
When using suppression against criminal involvement, it is also important to note that the strategy does reduce crime that can be attributed to gangs. This means that members of a gang are able to remain in the gang without indulging in crime and thus gangs have a chance of becoming harmless fraternities. However, the fact that these gangs are run by rules and expectations imply that one individual within a gang cannot just refuse to participate in gang activities based on his/her personal convictions in regard to crime and violence. They must be able to convince their gang leaders of their position and in most cases this would not work given that they must be worth the protection and status provided to them by virtue of their membership. While discouraging these members from partaking in criminal activities is effective in respect to gang reduction, it is not practical or easy for an individual to refuse to participate in such activities given that participation is not just by will but rather by obligation as a price for membership.
Intervention in gang wars requires information provided by an insider regarding various issues that cause conflicts. In most cases, a mediator has to be someone recognized and respected by gangs, either a community leader, former gang member or an outstanding personality that both sides would identify with on a neutral level. This implies that mediation contributes to gang reduction by limiting rivalry and conflicts and solving the problems that exist between different gangs and thus allowing harmonious coexistence. The challenge herein is that information provided by the insider is not as easy to obtain as one would expect, and neither is a credible personality who will be respected enough by gang members to play the role of a powerful mediator.
According to Akers Sellers (2012) gang reduction models in most cases are based on the concept of an ideal society in which gangs are willing to listen and individuals participate in criminal activities by choice. In addition, the models are based on a situation in which individuals join these gangs as a social choice with no other compelling factors. Studying these gangs individually would however provide very different answers in regard to the ways in which the number of gangs can be reduced and even eliminated in the end. People join gangs for various reasons and the only way to stop them completely is by dealing with the issues that compel them to seek refuge in a gang. For example, expelling students from school due to their disciplinary challenges may compel them to form or join a gang and the only way to dissuade them is to make them enroll in a behavioral change program that would help them cope with their issues rather than isolating them from the rest of students.
The gang reduction model is a great insight into the subject of gangs and crime, although, currently, it is an incomplete model with respect to eliminating gangs and crime. Each gang is unique in its formation, structure and function. In order to eliminate a gang, it is important to understand how it was formed, how it attracts members and why they engage in criminal activities. In addition, while research studies have so far established general facts about gang membership and activities, it is important to consider these gangs as individuals in order to really understand them and come up with relevant policies and approaches which would be efficient in dealing with them more effectively and with finality. So far, all the efforts towards gang reduction and prevention have been in vain.