Issues from Juvenile Gangs in Our Society
The existence of youth gangs is not a new phenomenon in America. It started in the era of the baby boomers and continues to contribute to crime in the modern times. Most of them perpetrate a broad range of criminal activities ranging from mere misdemeanors such as burglary to more serious crimes like murder. However, sociologists ponder over several questions regarding the influences that cause youths to get involved in juvenile gangs. This paper examines the role of socio-economic classes as well as societal bond factors that contribute to the increasing involvement of the youth in juvenile gangs.
The Effect of Social Class on Youth Gang Membership
Youth gangs have been a great concern in the United States since the 1950s. Statistics show that the number of youth gangs increased from approximately 2,000 in 1980 to 31,000 gangs in 1996. Studies conducted by other scholars also affirmed that the number of young people who currently belong to a particular gang, as well as, those who have participated in the activities of a certain gang is high. Youth gangs are one of the major perpetrators of violent crimes in the United States and other countries as well. The approximate age at which young people join such groups is 17 to 18 years. There are diverse factors that might force an individual to join a youth gang including social, economic and cultural aspects of life. Of particular interest is the effect that social class can have on an adolescent’s decision to join a gang. Although there are various family issues that contribute to such decisions, excessive financial deprivation is a major contributing factor. Similarly, young people who have financial problems tend to engage in gang activities compared to those who are financially secure.
Youths from low-income families in the United States are considered a vulnerable group of people. That is because they face the risk of engaging in unacceptable behavior due to the lack of sufficient resources and opportunities. Although youth gangs exist in all places, research shows that most groups exist in big cities, and majorly in urban areas where most families belong to the lower socioeconomic class. Many consequences might result from various social and economic problems within a family and hence influence a person’s decision to join a youth gang. One of them is that young persons from such families are illiterate because they cannot afford to finance their education to the end. Unlike young adults from the upper social classes, such children spend most of their time in the streets either looking for money to feed their families or idling around. In worse circumstances, children are forced to engage in illegal activities such as drug trafficking to earn a decent living. Because of these reasons, adolescents who grow up in such circumstances are vulnerable to joining ‘powerful’ gangs to succeed in their quest to earn a living.
Another reason that affects young people from the lower social class to join youth gangs is the lack of financial stability. According to the findings of an investigation by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the level of unemployment among young people amounts to 17.1%. They further state that there is a positive relationship between crime and the level of income of an individual especially among persons between the age of 15 and 24. The effect is prominent among youth belonging to the lower social class because they lack the necessary skills and level of education to secure a decent job. On the contrary, adolescents from the high social class experience less difficulty when trying to find employment. That is because they frequently have the required skills and educational requirements to get employed or they end up as heirs of the fortunes and companies of their parents. Besides, most of them lack the time to idle around because they often engage in part-time jobs while studying simultaneously.
The Social Control Theory
This theory seeks to answer why members of the society adhere to the law. It then suggests that the people break the law when their connection or bond to the society has become weak. The bond control theory as it was previously known propounds that the strength and durability of a person’s commitment to the community tends to prevent social deviance tendencies. The personal desire to belong and be attached to others acts as a primary motivating factor on individuals’ behaviors, emotions and thought processes. As one of the major theories used to explain the relationship between crime and delinquency, Hirschi states that the primary question ought to be why the other members of the society do not commit crimes rather than why criminals do it. The social control theory explains that when person’s bond to the society is strong, they inhibit him or her from engaging in criminal-like or other deviant behavior. Church, Jaggers & Taylor contend that weakened or absent bonds allow the delinquent behavior to occur rather than cause it. Hirschi laid down four controls that help in shaping bond between the individual and the society.
One of the societal factors that might influence a youth’s degree of bond with the society is the concept of attachment. It measures the level of connection with other members of the society. It refers to the level of sensitivity towards the other people’s views, and where this degree is high, people become more concerned about what people think of them. A strong attachment would cause the youth to avoid engaging in gang-like activities such as crime and negative behavior to gain the society’s approval. Thus, a weak attachment to the community is a major reason for the prevalence of juvenile gangs. The second factor that shapes a person’s extent of bonding with the society is commitments which denote the investments that they have made therein. According to Bartollas & Miller an individual whose, energy, time and resources are invested in a particular community is aware that deviant behavior would put such investment in jeopardy. A young person who has been promised a scholarship by the state, is a faithful church-goer, and has well-respected parents, is less likely to involve himself in juvenile gangs than one who has nothing to lose. Thus, the absence of a stake in the community may be a factor that causes youth to be involved in delinquent behavior.
Thirdly the level of involvement in communal activities that are considered to be socially legitimate enhances the bond with the society. Persons who are actively involved in normal activities of the community simply lack the time to engage in delinquent behavior. For instance, a youth who participates in the state’s football activity is less likely to have time for behaviors not considered to be socially acceptable like engaging in juvenile gangs. Lastly, Hirschi also explained that a person’s belief play a key role in their commitment to the society. The key question here is whether the young one believes in the common value system of the society. Hirschi states that it contributes to deviance in two ways; the juvenile either (i) ignores the belief system he was taught in its entirety, or (ii) rationalizes their wayward character to engage in a socially unacceptable behavior. Thus, where an individual holds a common perspective with the society on how they should behave, they are less likely to engage in delinquent behavior.
The above discussion focuses on several factors that contribute to the involvement of the youth in youth gangs. The paper extensively discusses the impact of socioeconomic status on increasing the propensity of the young people to join a juvenile gang. Persons from low-income families are more likely to engage in deviant behavior due to financial difficulties. The paper also explores Hirschi’s theory which espouses the role social bonds play in promoting good behavior or abetting juvenile delinquency. The four elements in his theory include attachment, involvement, commitment, and beliefs. Therefore, the society in which a child is raised to a great extent determines the level of his or her involvement in juvenile gangs.