Risk factors are often found in clusters and their cumulative effect may lead to a greater probability that youth will become involved in crime (Garbarino, 1999). As a result then, there are not one or two factors that could cause someone to join a gang, but rather a collection of factors (Garbarino). It is possible then, by eliminating even one factor among the cluster, that programs could reduce gang involvement.
According to Esbensen (2000), many major cities have introduced gang prevention programs throughout the United States over the past 60 years. Community groups, social workers, and law enforcement personnel manage the different prevention programs in a variety of formats. The national government has also addressed the seriousness of gangs; President George W. Bush has proposed that funding be used for a three-year project to help keep youth out of gangs. First Lady Laura Bush will lead the new effort, Helping America's Youth, with $150 million dollars in grants to be distributed to faith-based groups and community organizations to address this issue (the White House, 2005).
Purpose of the Study
The average age for youth to become involved with a gang is between twelve to seventeen years (Curry and Decker, 1998). There is an increasing movement toward recruitment of elementary school aged youth. A contributing factor to this is that gang members know that states do not routinely prosecute younger children. This is a way for gang members to involve youth in their illegal activities, in an effort to remain out of jail (Johnson, C., Webster, B. Connors, E, 1995). The younger children are extremely motivated to gain the approval of older male gang members, who they see as role models (Curry and Decker, 1998). It is increasingly necessary, then, that gang prevention education begin with elementary school age children.
Stanley Williams wrote a series of eight readers aimed at urban youth on how to avoid becoming involved with gang activity and was nominated four times for the Nobel Prize for Literature. He also started an Internet project to encourage street peace among current gang members, and was nominated five times for the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts. His primary objective was to deglamorize gangs and gang members.
In the early 1970's, Williams was one of the co-founders of the notorious gang the Crips, which formed in Los Angeles. In 1981, he was convicted of robbery and the murder of four people. Stanley William's was on death row in San Quentin State Prison throughout this time, and then executed on December 13, 2005. Williams wrote the series of children's books as an act of atonement; he wanted to tell youth the story of his life, how it led to gang involvement, and of what gang life was really like. The series of books that he wrote for youth include: Gangs and Wanting to Belong (1998), Gangs and Drugs (1998), Gangs and Self-Esteem (1998), Gangs and Weapons (1998), Gangs and Your Friends (1998), Gangs and Your Neighborhood (1998), Gangs and the Abuse of Power (1998) and Gangs and Violence (1998).
This researcher has corresponded with Williams and has spoken to his editor, Barbara Cottman Becnel, to determine if any previous research had been done on Williams' books. The author and editor of these books were not aware of any formal evaluations or research that has been done utilizing the books (S. Williams, personal communications, October 17, 2004, B. Becnel, personal communications, November 8, 2004).
The purpose of this research was to provide empirical data and an informative assessment of a particular gang prevention strategy aimed at younger children. This research study specifically examined the impact that a selection of Williams' books had on preadolescent urban boys age's eight to ten and their attitudes regarding gang activity. Parents and teachers perspectives regarding their attitudes and knowledge development toward youth gangs and gang involvement, after exposure to the books, were also assessed.
The hypothesis was that Williams' books on youth gang prevention would have an impact on preadolescent boys' attitudes regarding gang involvement. This researcher was interested in collecting and analyzing responses regarding attitudes, knowledge, and strategy options, such as:
Do Williams' books affect the boys' opinions regarding gangs?
Do the books increase their knowledge of gangs?
Do Williams' books offer the boys options or strategies for staying out of gangs?
Do the books increase the boys understanding of the consequences of joining a gang?
The independent variable was exposure to Williams' books. The exposure consisted of having the books read to the children followed up with a discussion using primarily open-ended questions. The dependent variable was their resulting attitudes toward gang involvement. The assumption was that by exposing youth to Williams' books, it was possible to affect their attitudes toward gangs and/or gang membership, increase their knowledge of the consequences of joining a gang, and increase their options or strategies on how to avoid gang involvement.
This study used a combination of qualitative approaches to explore the potential of Williams' books as an effective means to educate children about the subjects of gangs, violence, and peer pressure. In addition, parents and teachers were assessed to discover what parents and teachers have gained in terms of general knowledge and options for prospective intervention or prevention strategies.
Limitations/Delimitations limitation to this study was that inferential conclusions could not be made based on the small sample size. Another limitation to the internal validity was that of maturity; there was no way to know the level of the youth's ability to comprehend the content of the books. For this reason, the books and questions were read to them. The subjects were given an opportunity to ask for clarification of the questions. In addition, dealing with youth in a research process had the potential of the participants becoming bored or restless while taking part in the study.
Another possible constraint could be found in conducting one-on-one surveys from interviewer bias. The interviewer could affect the quality of the answers provided by the respondents just with facial expressions or changes in voice inflection. To limit bias, the interviewer was cautious so that the interviewee did not sense any impatience, disapproval, or other negative feelings (Babbie, 1990). It was imperative that the interviewer remain impartial and unbiased so that participants felt at ease to provide candid responses. The quality of the interviewing techniques could affect the validity and reliability of the survey results (Babbie).
A delimitation to this study was that the research would not be able to validate the long-term effects that Williams' books may have made on youth. A longitudinal panel study would have been more definitive in tracking the youth over a period of time to determine if any attitude changes occurred (Babbie, 1990).
Trying to determine the extent of the gang problem in America has been challenging because there has not been agreement on what constitutes a gang. Early research maintained a distinction between youth gangs and adult gangs, but in recent years there has been a tendency to conflate the two, or to use non-specific terms for one group or the other (Howell, 1998). Researchers have not agreed on the definition of "youth"; some researchers classify youth as individuals ages 10 to 22, while others consider the age of 24 as a youth (Myers, 2001). There is also disagreement in regard to the number of members needed to constitute a gang, some researchers use two or more, while others use three or more (Esbensen, Winfree, Ni He, and Taylor, 2001).
The following definitions reflect a consideration of what behaviors were deemed to require intervention or prevention, the age of the study's participants, and most common standards and practices in the field.
Anti-Social Behavior - Within this dissertation antisocial behavior was referred to early sexual activity, drug use, violence or participation in illegal activities (Craig 2002). Though there is a correlation, it is important to note that anti-social behavior can exist without gang involvement. Conversely, it is unlikely that a youth will be involved with a gang, without demonstrating anti-social behavior.
At-Risk - Children are defined as at-risk for gang involvement by a number of factors including poverty within a household or neighborhood, history of family or personal violence, history of exposure to violence, low school performance, and many other factors (Rosay, Gottfredson, Armstrong, and Harmon, 2000). Within this study, youth were used from a school that has over 98% of the children coming from economically disadvantaged homes, over 97% are minorities, 38% live with a single parent, and student academic achievements are below the state's average (Ohio Department of Education, 2005).
Gang - a gang can be defined in various ways. Anything from a small group, two or three friends who hang out together, to large, organized groups, with systemic…