Into The Abyss:
A Personal Journey into the World of Street Gangs

by Mike Carlie, Ph.D.        
Michael K. Carlie
Continually updated.

~ Table of Contents ~
Home | Foreword | Preface | Orientation

What I Learned | Conclusions
End Note |
| Appendix
Site Map / Contents
| New Research

Up-To-Date Gang-Related News

Chapter 19:
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 experiencing gang 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 optimistic.

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 lifestyles.

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, see "Conclusions")

"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 England."

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 youth. 

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 from Czechoslovakia, 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.

Skinheads 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. (Leet, 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 "L.A. Gangs are Back," the author discussed the impact of gang members returning from prison on parole.

2002 Michael K. Carlie
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means without permission in writing from the author and copyright holder - Michael K. Carlie.