Why Gangs Form
Why Youths Join
form due to a lack of legitimate free-time activities.
||To keep from
Gangs form in response to a lack
of legitimate free-time activities for neighborhood youth.
Among the reasons for
joining gangs were to obtain money or protection, or because of a lack of
alternative activities ... one-fourth of respondents ... reported a
lack of alternatives. (Stone,
The probation and parole officers interviewed for this study
identified boredom as one of the leading reasons why some youth get into
trouble with the law (child abuse, sibling gang involvement, an absent father, and substance abuse in the family
were the others).
For most youths, family, school, and faith institutions offer an array of legitimate activities - enough to keep some children so busy they
are literally exhausted at the end of the day, as are the parents who must
shuttle them from one activity to another. Families go on vacations and picnics, schools take children to the zoo and
offer a range of after-school activities including specialty clubs, field
trips, and athletics. Faith institutions offer missionary work, community
service, dances, activity centers where youths can watch television, videos,
and generally "hang out" with each other.
Note: A suburban church minister
told me "We keep our church youth so busy there's something to
do every night of the week and on weekends. We also have a youth
minister who visits their homes regularly and holds special services
for them on topics that are timely and useful."
Some youths, however, live in family settings that are neglectful or so painful that
they associate with family members only when absolutely necessary. School for some youths has also become a painful experience due to poor
academic performance, discrimination suffered at the hands of school
personnel and/or other students, or any one of a number of other
reasons. And in too many cases the faith institutions close down at 5:00
lock up for the night. As a result, these youth have few lawful and
enjoyable activities in which to participate. If lawful forms of activity
are not available, some youths will opt for unlawful activities.
Some of the unlawful activities take the form of striking back at family
members, peers, school authorities, and
who have hurt the child. This may include running away,
vandalism, fighting, and theft. When caught for behaving in this
manner, the child may be placed in detention and begin socializing with
youth in similarly situated circumstances. The beginnings
of a gang in this scenario are not too difficult to see.
... young men and women
from diverse social situations form gangs to escape boredom and gain a sense
of family. (Joe
Once formed, gangs provide a multitude of things to do for their current
and potential members - both lawful and unlawful. Among the lawful activities are
socializing ("kickin' it") and parties. Among the unlawful activities are the
crimes they commit. As long as the gang has a corner or a meeting
house, there is something to do and someone to do it with. The
point is that, lacking legitimate free-time activities, youths may unite to find amusement,
sometimes to the community's detriment and their
A lack of legitimate free-time activities alone is insufficient as an
explanation for the formation of gangs. For some, the presence of
pathological offenders may also help explain why a gang forms.