Gangs and The Future
The gang problem is
rooted in the conditions of lower-class life, particularly poverty. It tends
to be particularly intense in certain areas where social pathologies -
delinquency, mental illness, public assistance, and poverty - are
concentrated. These conditions are all getting worse, despite programs aimed
at improving them. (Roberg,
et al., 2000, p. 514)
I am not very optimistic about the future as regards gangs. Neighborhoods
entrenchment have, in my mind, the bleakest future. Neighborhoods with
an emerging gang situation, on the other hand, may be able to do something
constructive to reduce gang activity. Gang free communities can benefit from
prevention programs and from closely scrutinizing families and individuals
who are arriving from other communities.
Several gang researchers have addressed the issue of gangs in the future.
Among them are Johnson, Webster, and Connors. (1995)
In their study of 140 prosecutors from large jurisdictions (with a
population of 250,000 or more inhabitants) and 160 prosecutors from smaller
jurisdictions (25,000 to 250,000 residents) they found little reason to be
Prosecutors did not express optimism about gangs in
the future. In their work, they have learned a great deal about gangs, gang
members, and the circumstances that have produced them. The gang members who
come to their attention are often far beyond the reach of social
interventions designed to deter youths from involvement in gang or drug
Although they stated that prosecuting gangs would not completely
solve the gang problem, they intend to pursue prosecutions as vigorously as
possible. But as indicated by their comments on the survey questionnaire and
in interviews, gang prosecutors consistently advocated early intervention
with children and youths and more effective services to strengthen families
as the best way to prevent gang crime and violence. (Johnson,
et al., 1995, page,
"In short, the general outlook for reductions in gangs and
gang-related crime is poor. In fact, the opposite appears
likely. Worsening social and economic conditions, federal roll backs
of hard-won civil rights legislation and a potential increase in racism, and
an expanding minority youth population, all portend a deleterious gang
situation. Barring any major political and economic changes ... an
increase in gangs and gang crimes seems likely." (John Quicker as reported in Klein,
1995, p. 187)
Malcolm Klein, one of America's premier gang researchers, is also pessimistic about the future of the gang phenomenon.
Among the sources of his pessimism are "a misplaced emphasis on
networking and information sharing among enforcement agencies, the
continuing contribution of urban decay to gang formation, and the diffusion of
gang culture across the nation." (Klein,
1995, pp. 187-188)
In a study sponsored by the Family Research Council and entitled Youth
Gangs: Out of Control and Getting Worse, R. L. Maginnis attributes his
pessimistic outlook to many of the factors discussed previously in Into the Abyss.
His analysis of the juvenile
gang problem concludes stating that
[Y]outh crime, violence, and gang involvement are
likely to increase sharply when the large population of elementary-age
children reaches adolescence ... Further efforts are needed to break
the cycle involved in gang participation.
Currently and historically,
young males commit far more crimes than other age groups. The combination of
more chronic juvenile delinquents and an increase in violent juvenile
offenders is complemented by an unprecedented increase in youth living with
little or no adult supervision.
Gangs are spreading across the country and
are not just limited to major cities. The decline of the nuclear family has prompted many children to
join gangs to find purpose, security, and self-esteem.
The gang culture
gives them a sense of belonging and remakes their value system. Partying,
fighting, and vicious gang loyalty become their main values and replace
virtues that favor family life. (Maginnis, 1995)
Earlier in Into the Abyss the potential impact of gang members
paroled or released from prison was explored.
Research has shown that their impact is basically negative - leading to
more, not less, gang activity. Sharing what I knew about gang members
returning from prison, I asked a British intelligence officer if he had any concerns about
this. He said "I think that is likely to happen in
Although there may be additional restrictions placed upon immigration as
a result of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, difficulties surrounding immigration into the United States are likely to
remain one contributor to gang formation and gang joining among immigrant
In an interview with the head of a European prison
officer's association I learned there is considerable concern regarding
the influx of immigrants from other European nations. He said "Immigrants
Russia, Yugoslavia, Croatia, and Serbia ... are going to be ... a problem."
He didn't say they would necessarily form gangs, although he is very familiar with Russian organized
(gang) crime. He believes their lack of interest in learning English will make
integration and assimilation even more difficult and difficulties
surrounding integration lead to other problems.
A current problem, related to immigration and birth rates, and one which
may grow in the future, has to do with the increasing number of Hispanics
living in the United States and the language barrier which sometimes divides
them from other Americans. The lack of Spanish speaking personnel in both law enforcement and
probation/parole also bodes poorly for the future. In addition, the
increasing number of Hispanics and African-Americans in the American
population may excite white supremacist
groups (ideological hate gangs) to further action.
will continue to be aligned with long-established white supremacist
groups. The Skinhead gangs will remain among the most violent groups of
white gangs and, although small in numbers, their potential for violence
will remain significant. They will continue to become members of organized
white-supremacist groups and a leading promoter of hate crimes.
1997, p. 257)
I do believe that communities can make their future. They always have,
either by design or by default. The number of gang members can be reduced as
can the amount and seriousness of crime they commit. In order to do this we
need to do more than we are already doing. The Solutions portion of Into
the Abyss identifies some of the things which could be done.
Additional Resources: In
Gangs are Back," the author discussed
the impact of gang members returning from prison on parole.
Michael K. Carlie
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