To summarize, research on gangs has shown the gang problem to be increasing dramatically. Gang members list many reasons for joining a gang, including protection, peer pressure, economic needs, social needs, power, because relatives are members, a lack of parental or community support, and social status. According to the research, gangs tend to exist in greater numbers in low-income populations, and in single-parent households. Additionally, research has shown that while there certainly are Caucasian gang members, the majority are Hispanic or African-American.
The purpose of this study was to determine why teenage males join and participate in gang activities. The independent variables were socio-economic status, peer influence, lack of family support, self-esteem, and protection. The subjects studied were from a high population area near Houston, TX, where the majority of residents were of Hispanic decent. This study examined the relationship between gang activities and the independent variables. This section summarizes the methods and procedures used in this study.
The hypothesis is that parental involvement, peer relations, economic status, self-esteem, and confidence in safety are negatively correlated with gang activity in junior high school students with previous delinquent behavior problems. As the independent variables decrease, gang activities increase. This study will attempt to show that gang activities are complex in nature, and can result from a vast list of reasons.
This study used an interview design. Youths were asked by the researcher about their involvement with gangs, their initiation into gangs, family participation in gangs, peer participation in gangs, reasons for joining gangs, opinions about gang involvement, and parental knowledge of gang involvement. The interview design was selected in order to ask for detailed information on gang involvement in a small sample of individuals over the span of a 4-week period.
Youths involved in this study were selected from students enrolled in a junior high school in the Houston, TX area. The school is predominately Hispanic, with 90% of students from Hispanic decent. Five percent of students are African-American, and five percent are Caucasian. The junior high school is large, with approximately 1000 students, with class sizes ranging from 18 to 25 students per instructor. The sample was chosen based on previous delinquent school behavior, such as school suspension, removal from classrooms for violence and disruption, or legal trouble. Addition criteria included grade reports, and subjects were selected based on cross-references of failing grades and class disruptions. Participation was voluntary, with permissions secured from parents of the subjects.
The sample in this study included six male students from a public junior high school in the Houston, TX areas. Students participating were in grades 6, 7 or 8. Participants were at least 12 years of age at the time of the study, and were at most 16 years of age. All participants in the study were male, and all six subjects were of Hispanic decent. The subjects were from low socio-economic backgrounds, and displayed failing grades and/or behavioral problems in school or outside of school.
Interview questions were created to address specific purposed in this study. The questions were open ended to allow for expanded information on each topic. Each interview was conducted in hour-long increments over the course of 4 weeks. The interviews included the following questions:
How long have you been in a gang?
How did you get into the gang?
What was/were your initiation(s)?
Are any family members in the same gang?
Are any peers in the same gang?
Why did you want to join a gang?
Do you like being in a gang?
Do your parents know you are in a gang?
Each question was designed for a specific grouping purposed. The first set, questions 1 through 3, were designed to determine the level of participation in gang activities. The second set, questions 4 through 5, were deigned to establish peer pressure influences on gang activities. Questions 6 through 7 were designed to determine the subjects' beliefs on why they joined the gang, and to establish their opinions on gang activities. Finally, question 8 was designed to determine parental involvement in the activities of the subject.
Each subject was given an unlimited time to respond to each question. In this way, it was determined that the subject would be better able to expand on their answers, thus providing more information. Subjects were allowed to choose their own interview times, and choose how long each interview session lasted. When necessary, subjects were allowed to finish only part of the interview, and complete the rest at a later time.
All students in grades 6 through 8 at the junior high school were given the opportunity to participate. From those volunteering to participate, subjects were chosen based on teacher interviews about behavioral problems, as well as based on grade information. From those volunteers selected based on the above, 12 were chosen to participate in the interview process. Permission slips were sent home with the subjects, in order to obtain parental permission for the interviews. Of the 12 permission slips given, only 6 were returned. At no time were the subjects nor the parents given information about the proposed hypothesis, but instead were informed of the general nature of the research (gang activities), and how the interviews would be conducted. This was done so that results would not be skewed.
Each subject was then given a subject consent form, detailing the study and the subjects role in the study. Of the 6 subjects, all signed the consent form.
Each subject then signed up for an interview session. Each session was one hour in length, and was conducted either before of after school hours. For each interview, only the subject, the researcher, and one other school staff member were present. The interviews were conducted in the subject's normal daily classroom setting. Each subject was seated at a table, facing the interviewer. The interviewer had the pre-determined interview questions, and a writing utensil. The other staff member sat at the other end of the room, near the classroom door to ensure privacy for the research.
The interviewer then began the interview. Each subject was asked each question as many times as necessary for the respondent to comprehend. The subject also had a copy of the interview questions during the course of the interview. Each subject had an unlimited amount of time for each question, and could go into as much detail as they chose. The interviewer wrote the responses onto a pre-created data entry sheet. The interviewers were not to ask questions, unless the subjects' answers were unclear. When necessary, the interview would continue at a later, subject determined date and time to allow for other activities.
Each subject's data sheet had no identifying information, to protect the internal validity of the study. Additionally, each subject could withdraw from the study at any time. All data materials and forms were returned to the researcher following the study for coding purposes. Data was reviewed, and organized into a chart format. The chart was then examined to determine any common themes for joining gangs.
The purpose of this study was to determine reasons why junior high school males join gangs, and what factors influence their gang affiliations, as well as to determine indirect influences on gang affiliations. The following section will analyze the results of the interviews, and discuss the findings in this study.
Prior to determining the subjects that would participate, information was gathered about their school behaviors and grade information, as described in the Methods section. For the six subjects selected, the mean grade point average was 1.933 (see Table 1), with a standard deviation of.4273 (standard error,.1745).
Table 1: GPA of subjects
GPA for previous school year
Length of time in a gang
On average, the length of time the subjects in the study were involved in a gang was 14.67 months, with a standard deviation of 12.879 (standard error, 5.258). (See Table 2).
Table 2: Length of time in gang
Time in gang (months)
Access to gang membership
Subjects in the test group were most likely to have gotten into the gang by being approached to join by another gang member (50%). Thirty-three percent reported gaining admittance to the gang due to family members already in the gang, with half those subjects reporting their brother got them in, and the other half responding that their father got them in. Seventeen percent reported gaining access by approaching a known gang member, and asking for admission.
Half of the subjects in the study reported, "timed beatings" as their initiation into the gang. The timed beatings were described as being…