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

Topic 14:
Because they Can

Why Gangs Form

What Gangs Provide Why Youths Join
Gangs form 
because they can.
Any of the aforementioned. Any of the aforementioned.

Explanation in Brief: 
Gangs form when non-gang delinquents and delinquent groups are left unmonitored.

We define group delinquency as law-violating behavior committed by juveniles in relatively small peer groups that tend to be ephemeral, i.e., loosely organized with shifting leadership. The delinquent group is engaged in various forms of minor or serious crime.

We define gang delinquency or crime as law-violating behavior committed both by juveniles and adults in or related to groups that are complexly organized although sometimes diffuse, sometimes cohesive with established leadership and membership rules. (Curry and Spergel, 1997, p. 314-315, italics added for emphasis)

Sometimes individual juvenile delinquents and delinquent groups are allowed to develop into more organized gangs through the negligence of the neighborhoods and communities in which they may be found. Gangs can form if the community and/or its police are unaware of the gang's development or if local justice policies are ineffectual in dealing with their members. Denial, on the part of the community or the police, will produce the same outcome.

In the field of criminology there is an explanation for crime referred to as opportunity theory. In essence, it states that crime can not exist without an offender, a victim, and a circumstance or opportunity which brings the two together. Crimes occur where and when the opportunity for them to occur appears.

Likewise, gangs can not exist, or will have difficulty existing for very long, in an environment in which there are no potential victims - where victims are difficult to find, or where victims successfully fight back. It is also difficult for a gang to exist if the opportunities they need for their existence are not present (i.e., weak law enforcement, no graffiti removal, community denial of a gang problem, inattentive media and a drug market, to mention a few).

If drug prevention programs are effective in making people knowledgeable about the negative consequences of taking drugs, to whom will gang members sell drugs? Without a marketplace, there's no drug gang. If children are being taught to resolve conflicts without resorting to violence, who will the gang provoke into a fight? In other words, under an aggressive campaign to remove potential opportunities for committing gang-related crimes, it becomes more difficult for gangs to form. 

I guess there will always be children who are disobedient, who violate the rules, and who break the law. If two or more of them begin associating with one another over an extended period of time, and support one another in violating the law, a gang may develop. It will be more likely to develop if nothing is done to stop it. Why? Because it can - it will be allowed to form. The family, the school, the community, the police - whatever it may be, they have allowed the gang to develop by default. Failure to pay attention and take needed action enables gangs to develop.


Optional Explorations: You can read about "Guns, Gangs, and the Culture of Violence" in South Africa today. "Identifying and Addressing a Gang Problem" is available online. It discussed how to determine what a gang is, who belongs to the gang, why some young people join a gang, how to identify gang members, how to help your child say "No" to gangs, the consequences of being in a gang, how to deal with your child being in a gang and about how a child can get out of a gang.

If you're interested, you can order free copies of "A Parent's Guide to Gangs" ( to distribute in your community or view an online version of it.

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.