Youth Gangs: The Role of the Family in the Formation and Prevention of Youth Gangs
The issue of youth gangs is one of the most serious concerns facing administrators in the UK today. Numerous factors have been identified as increasing the risk of one getting lured into gang activity. The most prominent of these factors include poverty and deprivation, poor performance in school, drug and substance abuse, and crime-prone surroundings. While not underestimating the role of these factors, this study seeks to establish the role of the family as an influencing factor of youth delinquency and gang involvement. It is intent on showing that disorganization within the family unit is the main reason as to why young people engage in gang activities, and the best way to address the problem is by giving families and parents a central role in policy and interventions.
Table of Contents
Defining a Gang.
The push and pull factors that drive gang membership.. 13
The role of the family in gang involvement
The urban underclass.. 17
Family structure and gang involvement.. 18
Familial criminality and gang involvement. 19
Theoretical framework. 21
Findings and discussion.
Chapter One: Introduction
Youth gangs are back on the government's agenda, with Prime Minister David Cameron recently promising to put up an "all out fight" against gangs wreaking havoc in the country's inner cities. A 2008 study by the Home Office established that nearly 6% of adolescents between the ages of 10 and 19 in England and Wales belong to some form of gang. In London alone, police have reported approximately 171 "dangerous" gangs, and have found almost half of all teenage deaths in the city to be gang-related (Castella & McClatchey, 2011). The situation is no different in Manchester, Glasgow, and Liverpool, where 60% of shootings are linked to gang involvement (Castella & McClatchey, 2011). However, whilst not disputing these statistics, criminology experts are raising questions over the criterion used by police to categorize a group as a gang - given that most of the young offenders arrested on gang-related charges do not even identify themselves as gang members in their court appearances (Castella & McClatchey, 2011). In his book, One Blood, for instance, John Heale (2009: 1968) expresses that we do not even have a standard definition for the term "gang" in the UK, and it is likely, therefore, that we may perceive every "suspicious" group as a gang even when they are just kids hanging around together because they do not have anything useful to do. Owing to this lack of information on the nature and operations of gangs, and the effect of misrepresentation on the part of the media, we have developed this common perception that urban groups nurture attitudes and values that encourage delinquency. What is even more worrying though is that we do not stop to consider the effect of external push and pull factors that contribute to gang membership and gang involvement (Cox, 2011:1). Well, if this is the mentality that PM David Cameron and his team intend to use in their war against gang activities, then we should not expect the youth gang problem to go away any time soon.
If we are to effectively tackle the issue of youth gangs, we will need to adopt a holistic approach that responds not only to the surface issues, but also the underlying issues that drive young people to join gangs. As Gavin Poole, the executive director at the Center for Social Justice, says, we cannot eradicate youth gangs by eliminating those who are already caught up in them; the best we can do is prevent more youths from joining the same (Castella & McClatchey, 2011). Doing so will, however, require us to first heighten our understanding of the social, individual, and psychological factors that drive the youth to join gangs. If we can effectively address these, then we will be able to minimize the youth gang effect, which has threatened the nation's security for centuries.
This dissertation examines the causal factors in the youth gang problem, with particular emphasis on the role of the family in criminality and gang membership. The researcher hypothesizes that disorganization within the family unit is the main reason why young people engage in gang activities. This is, however, not to underestimate the role of other social, psychological, and individual factors because the researcher fully understands that one's involvement in criminality is driven by their socio-economic context as a whole, and not a single factor. All the same, compared to other factors, familial influences have been largely understudied, and the researcher feels that the current study not only complements existing research, but also addresses the existing knowledge gaps and provides some good insight to policymakers on how to effectively structure policies geared at responding to the gang problem.
To meet its primary objectives, the study made use of web-based documents and secondary sources, with the key areas of focus being the different definitions of the term "youth gang," the similarities and differences between UK and U.S. gangs, the push and pull factors that drive gang involvement, the role of the family in driving gang involvement, and the various responses to the issue undertaken by the government in the past.
Chapter 2 focuses on the methodologies that were used to help the study realize its objectives. It outlines the advantages and disadvantages of using both primary and secondary data and gives reasons as to why the latter was more preferable for this particular study. Further, it presents the strengths and weaknesses of quantitative as well as qualitative studies, and explains why the latter was preferred despite its inherent weaknesses. It also outlines the various steps that were taken to ensure the validity and reliability of results.
Chapter 3 covers the various focus areas that have been studied by researchers in the past in relation to the causes of gang involvement. It is divided into two sections. The first section reviews data and statistics from the Home Office and various police reports with the aim of analyzing the different definitions of the term "youth gang" to show why there is need to conduct more research in this area of study. The trends established in this section form the basis of the second section, which focuses on the pull and push factors that drive young people to join gangs. Significant emphasis is placed on the family as a contributing factor.
Chapter 4 gives the study its deductive approach through theory. It uses Hirsch's social control theory to show how structural changes and unfavorable conditions within the family unit drive young people to join gangs. It demonstrates that young people are more likely to engage in gang activities if they are disentangled from their pro-social institutions such as school and family, or worse still, if these institutions are non-existent. In this regard, having delinquent parents, having gang-associated families, being from large and disadvantaged households, and single parenting are all risk factors for gang involvement. By applying academic theory to a contemporary issue, this chapter provides redress to the knowledge gaps that characterize the existing body of literature.
Chapter 5 summarizes the main findings of the study and provides a justification for the argument that disorganization within the family unit is the main reason why young people engage in gang activities. It builds the case that in order for policy to be effective in addressing the issue of youth gangs, policymakers will need to appreciate the role of the family and accord it a central role in any gang-related policies they develop. The chapter concludes with a statement of the study limitations and areas for future research.
Chapter 6, the final chapter, reminds the reader of the primary objectives of the study, the methodological approaches used to realize these objectives, the overall findings, and the significance of these findings in policy development.
Chapter 2: Methodology
Secondary sources from the internet and the library were used to realize the study objectives. They included journal articles, books, academic texts, government reports and police reports, and official statistics from the Home Office. The researcher reckons that it would have been more beneficial to conduct primary research for this particular study given that very little data exists on the topic of youth gangs in the UK, and most of it is obsolete and out-of-date. However, he feels that this would have been rather too ambitious for a dissertation at this level particularly because of the ethical requirements that surround the conduction of research using human subjects. For instance, the British society of Criminology's Code of Ethics requires researchers conducting studies on young, vulnerable subjects to first acquire ethical approval for the same (Cox, 2011). Given that this study would have been conducted on young people, some teenagers and adolescents whom may have been affected by, participated in, or witnessed violent crime, and who can be deemed vulnerable by virtue of age, it would have been subject to the society's regulations. Obtaining the…