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

by Mike Carlie, Ph.D.        
© 2002
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

Topic 11:
The Influence of Migrating Gang Members

In order to measure the extent of gang migration on gang proliferation, the 1996 National Youth Gang Survey included several questions on the subject. Gang migration was described in the survey as "temporary visits for social or criminal purposes as well as longer stays, including permanent moves for any reason." 

Results of the survey indicated that 84 percent of respondents experienced some gang migration into their jurisdictions in 1996. In addition, it was estimated that 21 percent of the youth gang members in these jurisdictions were migrants. (Bilchik, 1999, p. 30)

Why Gangs Form

What Gangs Provide Why Youths Join
Gangs form due to the influence of migrating gang members. Any of the aforementioned. Any of the aforementioned.

Explanation in Brief: 
Gangs form as a result of recruitment by migrating gang members.

Some gangs form around gang members who have moved from their own neighborhood to another neighborhood. This is an explanation for why gangs form as well as an explanation for how gangs may multiply. Some migrating gang members seek out other youth to join them in creating a gang. As migrating gang members socialize with local youth, some of them are drawn into the gang life. 

It has been known for some time that young people who associate with delinquent peers are more likely to get involved in crime. (Glueck and Glueck, 1950)

Summarizing what was discussed in the Fluidity of Gangs and Gang Members,

Migrant gang members may stimulate the growth of gangs and gang membership through a variety of processes, such as recruiting locals to establish a branch of the gang in previously unaffected areas.

Alternatively, migrants may establish a new gang without structural affiliation to an existing gang. No matter what process is used, new local gangs will most likely emerge in response to territorial challenges or perceived protection needs. Regardless of the pattern of new gang initiation, gang member migration would create an increase in both the number of gangs and gang membership.

In addition, the solidification of local gang subcultures may increase the visibility or attractiveness of gangs to local youth. It may also influence the growth of rival gangs. (Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, 1998, page)

A recent report from the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) (1999), highlights the seriousness of the migration issue.

In 1996, police across the country were growing alarmed over a marked increase in violence, drug trafficking, and related crimes traceable to youth gangs.  Much of the crime growth seemed to follow gangs’ migration into new areas for fresh members and markets. Police were frustrated by newcomers’ distinctively colored clothing, tattoos, cryptic hand signals, and graffiti.  

The police did not know who the youths were, where they came from, or what illegal objectives they had in mind. In response, several states in the northeast corridor (Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont) monitored gangs’ growth, activities, and migration. Arrest data, surveillance, and other information sources pointed to a clear pattern: gang members from New York and more distant states were using interstate highways 93 and 95 to expand gang membership and activities into New England. (PERF, 1999, p. 1)

According to the findings of the 2004 National Youth Gang Survey,

Ten percent of (the 2,296 law enforcement agencies that responded to the survey) reported that more than half of the documented gang members in their jurisdiction had migrated from other areas; however, a majority (60 percent) of respondents reported no or few (less than 25 percent of documented gang members) such migrants.

Among agencies that experienced a higher percentage of migration, 45 percent reported that social reasons (e.g., members moving with families, pursuit of legitimate employment opportunities) affected local migration patterns "very much." Drug market opportunities (23 percent), avoidance of law enforcement crackdowns (21 percent), and participation in other illegal ventures (18 percent) were reported as reasons for migration to a lesser degree.

Agencies that experienced the highest levels of gang-member migration were significantly more likely to report migration for social reasons. (Highlights of the 2004 National Youth Gang Survey, p. 2)

While migrating gang members may lure local youth to join them and form a gang, the mass media also contribute to the formation of gangs.


Additional Resources: Earlier in Into the Abyss the subject of the fluidity of gangs was discussed. You can find more articles on gangs and migration in that chapter.

© 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.