Sociological Theories and Gang Violence

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The sociological examination of gang affiliation investigates the various outcomes of participating in illegal behavior. This research concentrates on concepts related to learning from others, individual characteristics, and issues pertaining to regulation as they relate to the recent surge in criminal activity in Chicago. By emphasizing the harsh truth of a society plagued by crime, it becomes evident that actively taking measures instead of simply considering providing assistance is what distinguishes a life of criminal behavior from a prosperous future.

Although the number of violent encounters in Chicago, Illinois has decreased, the streets continue to be flooded with violence. In 2012 alone, over five hundred murders were reported in the city (Lemmer, Bunsinger, & Lurigio, 2008). Communities have become desensitized to this violence due to the acceptance of gang activity as a societal norm. Various social groups have observed vicarious behavior and believe that it is desirable for gangs to form bonds across different areas of the city (Lilly,Cullen, & Ball, 2011). The future of socialization can partly be predicted by many theorists who argue that society cannot accept crime without also accepting some level of responsibility. The justice system plays a crucial role in regulating criminal behavior when individuals lack internalized rules and regulations (Lilly,Cullen, & Ball, 2011).

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Harold Ward, a former Gangster Disciple, discusses the corruption among leaders in Chicago and their acceptance of Mexican cartels, who have taken control of the city (Pundit, 2013). The criminalization of gang members is often attributed to social disorganization in their neighborhoods. To reverse this trend, organized programs are necessary in communities across the country. According to FBI statistics, there are currently 1.4 million active gang members in the United States. Despite a decrease in overall gang violence, it remains widespread in many neighborhoods (Pundit, 2013).

According to a study conducted in 2008 by Lemmer, Bunsinger, & Lurigio, there has been a significant increase in the murder rates on the streets of Chicago in recent years. In 2012 alone, the city recorded over 400 homicides, with about 80% of them being associated with gang activities. The main driving factors behind these gang-related killings are territorial disputes, maintaining their reputation, and seeking revenge against rival factions.

Harold “Noonie” Ward, a former gang member himself, argues that the violence in Chicago is connected to the presence of Mexican drug cartels. Ward claims that these cartels have found refuge within the city to establish their operations. Despite some high-ranking gang members being imprisoned, drugs continue to flow into Chicago without any interruption.

Perspectives from Ward (Pundit, 2013) suggest that certain officials benefit from the drug trade and therefore refuse to take action to stop it. Reports indicate that there are approximately 100,000 gang members for every 12,000 police officers present in Chicago (Rosenzweig,

The statistics reveal that gang-related homicides are a significant problem at both the national and city levels. In major cities, 40% of all homicides are connected to gangs, and in 2011, gangs were responsible for 61% of homicides. Gang members typically range from sixteen to nineteen years old, with some as young as thirteen. From 2009 to 2012, Chicago observed a 25% increase in gang activity (Rosenzweig, 2013).

Over time, there has been a misunderstanding of violence and deviance, leading different theorists to develop their own explanations for why individuals adopt violence as their way of life. Ronald Akers’ social learning theory suggests that people often engage in criminal behavior based on what they observe around them. These observations can come from various sources such as the media, family, and peers. The influence of family, friends, and societal norms within a neighborhood greatly impacts an individual’s decision-making when seeking acceptance. Akers’ theory also emphasizes how an individual’s behavior is shaped by positive or negative reinforcements through rewards or punishments. When given the opportunity, many individuals choose to take action to reduce violence within their communities (Akers, 1990).

The theories of social control and social learning both indicate that behavior is a choice influenced by various factors. However, these theories take different perspectives. Social learning theory argues that individuals join gangs to obtain a sense of security, mimic a glamorous lifestyle, and fill the void caused by an absent parent. It emphasizes that learned behavior is shaped by the environment and social connections within a community. According to this theory, people can make rational decisions based on observing others, but their interactions with the social environment also play a significant role (Lilly, Cullen, & Ball, 2011). On the other hand, social and personal control, as proposed by Reiss, suggests that deviant behavior is determined by the bond an individual has with their social surroundings.

Russell (2006) questions the impact of an individual’s defiance when considering their commitment to their social surroundings and suggests that being a disappointment to peers indicates social control. Individuals may continue certain behaviors as long as they are in a social environment that promotes moral acceptance. Theoretical predictions can be made about social behavior in specific neighborhoods, but accurately predicting actual outcomes is unlikely. Chibnal & Abbruzzese (2004) acknowledge the existence of gang violence in various types of neighborhoods and social classes. While it may be more prevalent in certain areas based on economic status, it is not exclusive to them. The proliferation of gangs in specific areas has been significantly reduced.

A community must allocate resources to prevent criminal activity among its members, as people may join gangs seeking financial security (Wyrick & Howell, 2004). Providing work programs and support to those in need can make a significant impact, especially on young individuals who have the potential to change. By teaching them right from wrong and instilling values, we can provide hope and stability. Many of these young people come from broken homes, lacking support. Offering programs to motivate their positive behavior and being there for them will have a lasting impact. Positive incentives can give them a sense of security and encourage them to continue participating. It is crucial for someone to advocate for these children, and mentoring programs can effectively deter future criminal activity and gang involvement. Theories suggest that prevention is the primary measure to discourage crime. To establish prevention systems and raise social awareness, the community needs to imbue values and morals from a young age and foster motivation and goal orientation.

The primary goal of the community is to target young people and prevent their future involvement in gangs. There are various methods to achieve this prevention, resulting in impressive outcomes. If every person in every household worldwide donated just one dollar, a fund could be established to support programs that work towards this objective (Chibnal & Abbruzzesse, 2004). It is crucial for individuals to be aware of the societal circumstances around them and take action instead of accepting it as normal. Parents should spend quality time with their children, even if it’s only for five minutes – any amount is better than none. The potential for prevention is immense, but has it been successful so far? In Chicago, there exists a program called Seize Fire which operates with members who have firsthand experience in gang life. This group consists of individuals who have lived among those involved in street life and witnessed the influence of violence themselves. Many come from broken homes where exposure to violence was widespread. Multiple individuals within this group were former gang members and even murderers. They engage with the less fortunate members of the community aiming to make them realize that there are alternative choices instead of resorting to violent behavior.

The commendable efforts of individuals in assisting others in leaving the gang life and reintegrating into society are praiseworthy (James & Kotlowitz, 2012). These individuals bring hope to those who have lost all hope. There are various available programs that aim to provide education and support to young offenders, giving them a chance to thrive. By participating in these programs, juveniles can fulfill their potential. Another effective strategy for preventing crime is actively improving neighborhoods. Volunteers work together to transform “ghetto” areas by removing graffiti, cleaning homes, and helping those who cannot afford repairs. Additionally, dedicated programs help individuals find job opportunities and access resources for success. Even one act of kindness can make a significant difference in someone’s life. The community can also establish a fund with the purpose of raising money for beneficial causes such as providing books and games for children.

According to Abbruzzese (2004), the absence of monitoring can result in delinquent behavior, emphasizing the need for programs targeting children whose parents are unavailable. These programs aim to impart values and morals to individuals. From a criminal justice perspective, institutionalizations occur as a consequence of misguided behavior. Rather than institutionalizing everyone, it is more advantageous to develop tailored programs based on their specific needs.

For instance, if someone steals another person’s wallet while at a grocery store because they are in need of food, offering to purchase their groceries instead of arresting them would be a better approach. This exemplifies reinforcement as an alternative solution. It is important to acknowledge that poverty and high-risk factors within our country drive some individuals towards committing crimes.

Much of the street violence stems from trivial reasons, with some individuals feeling marginalized and attempting to assert dominance rather than becoming victims themselves. To address this issue, providing neutral spaces for those less fortunate is crucial. By alleviating internal stressors and extending assistance, we can assist individuals in overcoming their harmful behaviors (Chibnal & Abbruzzese, 2004).

Within the justice system, there are programs available to assist families in finding resources. Incarcerated individuals have access to specific programs aimed at reducing gang involvement, but it is suggested that this should be a requirement. Probation officers should dedicate more time to their probationers, focusing on the positive impacts they have made. Violence programs for both youth and adults while incarcerated should also be mandatory upon release. There is a need for programs to support those who are released from jail, prison, or youth services, helping them establish necessary connections and resources within their communities for enhanced security. Tailoring programs to each inmate’s specific crimes can help them understand how to respond if faced with similar situations. Intervention specialists should visit correctional centers or prisons to address gang involvement and explore individuals’ potential.

The criminal justice system should prioritize assisting those in need, rather than solely meting out prison sentences. This is because individuals who enter prison will resort to any means necessary to survive in that environment (Chibnal & Abbruzzese, 2004). While Ronald Akers and Albert Reiss may have initially approached their theories from different perspectives, research has revealed numerous intersections between criminal justice and sociological connections in their work. Both theorists emphasize the significance of social bonds within a community, the struggle to maintain personal reputation, and the formation of a close-knit “family” within gangs. By internalizing moral values and receiving guidance, individuals are provided with a foundation to leave behind street life. However, reducing criminal activity in rural areas will not transpire overnight; it requires a committed and capable community willing to enact change over time.

The two theories we have studied show that they indirectly influence each other. Crime and delinquency stem from lack of parenting, lack of rules and regulations, unstable social systems that promote morals, and established conformity within a community. To promote acceptance of techniques and measures in a community, trust is essential. Safety should be a top priority (Lilly, Cullen, & Ball, 2011). Gang members need support in understanding their impact on the community. They should be aware that their actions contribute to an ongoing cycle that affects future generations. Gang members should be reminded that change is possible, and it can start with one individual. The main idea of these theories is that by providing children with better environments, adequate education, and instilling values and morals at a young age, we can potentially prevent them from becoming involved in gang life. The criminal justice response should focus on outweighing the negative with positive approaches.

In order to successfully reintegrate offenders into society, they require stability and support. This is especially crucial for young offenders, as they need guidance and education on legal principles. Simply releasing offenders without providing them the opportunity for change, security, or insight into the functioning of the economy is insufficient. While sociological reasons can explain crime in various ways, it is imperative to reject the notion of accepting crime as the norm within these communities (Lilly, Cullen, & Ball, 2011). It is essential for people to cease hurting others and focus on embracing the true essence of life.


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