According to the Public Safety of Canada website a youth gang is defined as a group that has a self-identity aka a group name, is perceived by others as a distinct group, and is involved in a significant number of delinquent acts that produce consistent negative responses from the community and/or law enforcement agencies.
This is just one of the many definitions of a youth gang, different scholars and/or agencies define them differently some more precise than others. Some stats about youth gangs show that Canada has roughly 434 youth gangs with roughly 7000 members with Ontario having the highest number. The stats also show that 39% are between the age of 16-18, 48% being under the age of 18 and that 25% of the members are African-Canadian, 21% are aboriginal and 18% are Caucasian with the vast majority of them being male 94% (Public Safety of Canada, 2008).
Youth that are more susceptible to getting pushed/pulled into a gang are youth that lack basic life skills, low educational attainment, poor work force preparation, poor social skills, absence of appropriate role models, low expectations by self and/or others, negative peer influences, involvement with drugs on a daily basis, previous history with courts and correctional systems, inadequate self-regulation skills, history of violence, school failures, family conflicts, exposure to violence in the community or at home, and unsteady jobs + lack of employability skills (Evans & Sawdon, 2004).
These are just some of the many factors that push/pull a youth into being involved in a gang. There are of course other factors but that are not as reputable as the ones mentioned. What type of people is most likely to be involved in a youth gang? What are good techniques in responding to youth gangs and intervening plus suppressing them? Is jailing these youth the best option for suppression? These are the main points that will be focused on and discussed. According to the Public Safety of Canada website the people most likely to participate in a youth gang is youth that suffer the greatest levels of inequality and social disadvantage.
So youth who come from very impoverished homes or areas that do not have the same chance to excel as the rest of the population. It also states that aboriginal youth are more vulnerable for recruitment and are increasing in numbers. The main reason being many aboriginals live in areas with extreme poverty and inequality so the youth join gangs thinking that its an easy way to make money, have lots of friends/party and have that sense of belonging all at the same time. Sounds compelling unfortunately there is much more to it than that and they dig themselves in a hole deeper than the one that poverty made for them.
Then these youth have kids and their kids start to follow in the same footsteps as their parents since they do not any better and the cycle continues. The aboriginal reserve Hobbema has a strong history of gang activity, a place that has a great deal of people living in poverty I for one can attest to that because I have seen if first hand many of times coming from a family with a background in the social services. My family currently house youth that were taken away by social services from their families in Hobbema because of malnourishment, severe abuse and a lack of a safe environment.
These youth were lucky enough to be saved from living that life however many are not and stay in these extreme conditions and turn to gangs for refuge and a sense of belonging. Parenting also plays a huge role in youth joining gangs. If a parent is strict to a reasonable degree and do not allow their youth to hang out at the mall for extended periods of time and/or set a reasonable curfew and actually care about what goes on in the youth’s life they are less likely to join a gang.
In the Hobbema situation many of the parents of these youth in gangs did not have proper parenting themselves so they just continue on raising their kids the same way they were raised. It is a vicious cycle that will keep continuing unless the government does not step in with more authority and helps set up more programs and funding for these youth to keep them out of gangs and coincidently keep them out of prison cells. If nothing is done however to break the circle then it will just keep on going for generations and generations.
The Public Safety of Canada website also states that many youth who join youth gangs have problems with drugs or alcohol and have already been involved in serious crimes in the past. Youth that display higher levels of delinquency in the past are more likely to remain in the gang. If the proper help was provided for youth with their drug and/or alcohol problems they might never have turned to a gang in the first place. As we all know drugs and alcohol impair judgment and since many of these youth have addictions problems maybe they never would have turned to being involved in a gang if they were not under the influence.
So once again if the government would focus more time and money into setting up rehab centers and treatment facilities for drug/alcohol addictions less youth/people would have a problem with them, consequently might never turn to being involved in a gang (Gatti, Tremblay, Vitaro & McDuff, n. d. ). As for youth who have been involved in serious crimes of delinquency in the past is concerned if they would have been properly rehabilitated in the past there is less chance of them being tied to gangs.
This mentality of jailing people for longer more severe sentences does not work. All one has to do is take a look at the United States of America they have very severe punishments, very long jail terms and are not afraid to lock someone up for many years but still they have a very high crime rate. Their system does not prove to be adequate. According to the Public Safety of Canada website the United States of America shows that twice the percentage of police jurisdictions report having active youth gangs as compared with Canada.
In Canada the conservative government is also trying to lean towards a similar system and trying to pump more and more money into building more/bigger prisons and trying to harshen the justice system. The one thing saving Canada from this is the fact that they only have a minority government and therefore cannot push through all their reforms. Instead of focusing money on building more/bigger prisons that money should be invested into creating more treatment programs and intervention programs. Some people youth/delinquents of course cannot be cured using these methods and those are the kinds of people that prisons should be reserved for.
The first response however should not be to lock these youth up for years to come but to try and change them using interventionist programs like community sanctions, group therapy, drug/alcohol treatment, victim based sanction to help them to reconstruct their values and beliefs and steer them on the right track. Of course this will not work for all youth but then again what does work 100%. It surely would be more effective then locking youth up in a prison cell isolated from society, infuriating them even more against society and the justice system.
Some other reasons youth join gangs according to the Public Safety of Canada website are some seek protection whether it be from a family member or someone from the community, for the sense of excitement maybe their lives are dull and follow the same routine day after day and they just want to spice up their lives, a chance to make money, and finally a sense of belonging as mentioned earlier. An interesting youth gang that does not follow the same foreground as other gangs is the neo-Nazi gang aka skin heads.
Many of these youth are seriously abused and are very angry at the world so they create scapegoats for their misery in blaming minorities for all the problems in the world. Not all these youth however are abused some just flat out hate minorities whether that is parental influence or self-ideology. Some have their high-school diploma or hold stable jobs and have stable family relationships. This is very different form the average violent youth gang (Baron, 1997). A great film that depicts the skin head subculture/youth gang is American History X starring Edward Norton.
According to the national crime prevention center there are three primary strategies to counteract youth gangs: prevention, intervention and suppression. Gang prevention programs help to discourage high risk youth from joining gangs and provide them with alternatives. Intervention programs are targeted at active gangs and their members. Last but not least suppression which involves specialized units in the police known as gang units that focus all their attention on bringing down active gangs (National Crime Prevention Center, 2007).
The problem being that governments focus to heavily on suppression but it alone cannot achieve its goal of steadily decreasing the amount of youth entering gangs entirely. It has to be a combination of the three tactics with a heavier reliance on prevention and intervention. Incarceration is also a suppression tactic and as mentioned earlier is not the answer to the majority of the youth involved in gang activity. For continuous repeat and very violent offenders it is the answer but this is only a very small minority of delinquents that commit these types of offences.
The majority commit small petty crimes. The problem is that if a police sees a youth who clearly belongs to a gang they are more likely to bust them even for small petty crimes than someone who is not then they keep them in jails thinking this is the best way to suppress them (Brownfield, Sorenson, & Thompson, 2001). Of course prevention and intervention begins with the police and how well they are educated on the subject of gangs. Police need to be thoroughly educated about the types of youth that are more vulnerable to being pushed/pulled into a gang.
Knowing these things will help a police officer know when to use his discretion more appropriately when confronted by a youth involved in gang activity (Jenson, 1994). More funding needs to be given to organizations such as the Canadian training institute who help disadvantaged youth with various problems in their lives. In a particular project the Canadian training institute picked a particular neighborhood to commence an intervention to improve the life chances of the youth living there. In this neighborhood there was a history of gang activity and were faced with similar circumstances as Hobbema.
The goal of the Canadian training institute was to develop an approach that would intervene in the vicious cycle and help the lives of the youth that were prepared to leave the gang lifestyle. The project starts off by first identifying the interest and motivation of the participants, the amount of gang involvement and a family social history. Once accepted the youths are placed on a waiting list until the start of the intensive ten day training session. The next step is the intensive training that involves up to sixty hours of training. The training includes topics on anger, aggression, sexism, racism, homophobia and bullying.
There is also communication and interpersonal skill building that takes place during the sixty hours. Youth are given $214. 50 a week if they attend every day of the course. The intensive training is followed by a case management process and follow-up that includes individual support of participant’s goals, plans of action and an ongoing group meeting for each training group (Evans & Sawdon, 2004). This seems to be a very effective mode of getting to gang members and if more funding was given to organizations such as this it would be far more effective tactic than entering youth into a correctional facility.
Of course not all gang members will be willing to participate in such a program that’s why it should be mandatory as a conditional sentence it would be very beneficial to them. So in conclusion, youth gangs are a topic of concern to police. Police statistics show that it is on the rise. This may be for varying reasons however the most apparent associate seems to be poverty. Where there is an area of poverty there seems to be higher levels of juvenile delinquency. This however is not a direct cause for youth joining gangs just one of the most important factors into pushing/pulling a youth towards entrance.
Before there is a drastic decrease in youth joining gangs greater steps need to be taken towards prevention and intervention. The government seems to be too focused on the suppression part of things, in reality it has to be a combination of all three that will help in the decrease of youth joining gangs. Incarceration alone will not help in reducing delinquency because the vicious cycle will just continue, the cycle has to be broken and the only way that’s going to happen is if more funding and time is put into prevention and intervention.
- Baron, S. (1997). Canadian Male Street Skinheads: Street Gang or Street Terrorists?. Canadian Review of Sociology & Anthropology, 34(2), 125. Retrieved from SocINDEX with Full Text database.
- Brownfield, D. , Sorenson, A. , & Thompson, K. (2001). gang membership, race, and social class: a test of the group hazard and master status hypotheses. Deviant Behavior, 22(1), 73-89.
- Evans, D. , & Sawdon, J. (2004). The Development of a GANG Exit Strategy: The Youth Ambassador’s Leadership and Employment Project. Corrections Today, 66(6), 78-81.
- Retrieved from SocINDEX with Full Text database. Gatti, U. , Tremblay, R. , Vitaro, F. , & McDuff, P. (n. d). Youth gangs, delinquency and drug use: a test of the selection, facilitation, and enhancement hypotheses. Journal of Child Psychology & Psychiatry, 46(11), 1178-1190.
- Jenson, J. (1994). Gangs: The Origins and Impacts of Contemporary Youth Gangs in the United States (Book). National Crime Prevention
- Center (2007) Addressing Youth Gang Problems: An Overview of Programs and Practices. Retrieved from MacEwan Library Public Safety