Preventing youths from joining gangs
Since the eruption of Kalashnikov and drug culture in Pakistan, the law and order situation has remained under a constant turbulence. Violence has become widespread and there are visible signs of gang violence as the criminal behavior has grown among the youth. However, no effort ever been made to understand the dynamics that drive juveniles to gang culture. We never came across to any program intended to combat this ever-increasing problem of gang formation in the country. Even our universities are shy-off to conduct any study on the topic, that how gangs are formed and why youth join gangs. All stakeholders are reluctant to understand the risk factors and attractions that increases youth’s propensity to join gangs. Resultantly, the law enforcement agencies are still without a clue to fight and eradicate this growing problem.
Anyhow, we are adept in strategizing based on assumptions. For instance, there is a belief that majority of the youth join gangs for protection, enjoyment, respect, money or because a friend is in a gang. According to another view, youth are at higher risk of joining gang if they are engaged in delinquent behavior, are aggressive or violent, have any problems at school, associated with other gang-involved youth, or live in communities where they feel unsafe and where many youth are in trouble.
Instead, we have to understand theories regarding gang formations explaining how youth move from delinquency to joining gangs and how gangs formed. Theoretical explanations revealed that youth always make a conscious choice to join a gang during adolescence, and multiple personal and environmental factors influence this choice. Rather than immediately joining serious or violent gangs, some youth become involved in less delinquent groups, called “starter gangs.” Juveniles form starter gangs to introduce themselves to gang culture while displaying distinctive attitudes, jargon, rituals and symbols. It is difficult to distinguish “starter gangs” from ordinary small groups of delinquents.
A complicating factor is that young gangsters are extremely unstable. Adolescence is a time of changing peer relations and fleeting allegiances to both friends and gangs. Shifting membership and an intermittent existence characterize many gangs, especially those with younger members. Youth drift in and out of these groups, and even members may be unable to name all current members.
A survey of middle school students revealed that 25% of all gangs existed only for less than 1 years while 10% existed for 11 years or more. Similarly, the dynamics of gang formation are also complex. Some believe that these grow out of conflicts among groups of young adolescents and rarely with law abiding community.
A French study suggests that some gangs emerge from “difficult schools” that contain a small group of highly rebellious pupils. A group of students was responsible for most of the disorder and violence in 16 schools that were studied. In the most difficult schools, as many as 11 percent of all students were members of these gangs. In this theory, adolescents form gangs when they are excluded from school for disciplinary reasons because school is a place that provides support, education, and social networks for youth. This exclusion may help solidify the group and lead toward gang formation. To become a law-violating gang, adolescents involved must commit to a criminal orientation.
Secondarily, the group must take on a criminal orientation as “a gang” that is set apart from other groups in the community. This group may be further solidified by conflict with school authorities and the police. When gangs are already established, researchers observe that the gang-joining process is similar to the manner in which most people would go about joining an organization. A youth typically begins hanging out with gang members at age 12 or 13 and joins the gang between ages 13 and 15. This process typically takes 6 months to a year or two from the time of initial association.
Certainly, there some factors that contribute to a youth’s decision to join a gang, the attraction and the risk factor. An absolute wrong public perception is that most youth are coerced into joining a gang, but contrary to this notion, most youth who join gangs want to belong to a gang. Gangs are often at the center of appealing social action—parties, hanging out, music, drugs, and opportunities to socialize with larger groups. The gang may be appealing because it meets a youth’s social needs like protection, fun, respect, money or an association in a larger group. Of these reasons, youth most commonly join gangs for the safety they believe the gang provides. Another important influence may be family members, especially siblings or cousins, who already are part of the gang.
We must work together with the law enforcement agencies to prevent youth from joining gangs, communities must strengthen families and schools, improve supervision, train teachers and parents to manage disruptive youth. The prevention strategies must consist of programs including the identification of the risk factors of a juvenile for joining a gang by reducing the conflict situation within the communities.
We must develop programs intended to improve the supervision of juveniles at community level by training teachers and sports coaches on how to manage disruptive students in schools and also providing training to parents of such disruptive and delinquent youth. Furthermore, our schools and educational institutions have to review school ‘zero-tolerance’ policies to reduce suspensions and expulsions of students due to rude behavior by ensuring that punitive sanctions would target only the delinquents having gang behavior and by increasing adult supervision of such students after school. Such delinquents could be sent to referral centers teaching them that gangs are dangerous, and conflicts could be resolved with better interpersonal skills.
A balance of prevention, intervention, and suppression strategies is important for success in any community. Prevention programs target youth at risk of gang involvement and help reduce the number of youths who join gangs. Intervention programs and strategies provide sanctions and services for juveniles who are actively involved in gangs to push them away from gangs. Law enforcement suppression strategies and intensive services must target and rehabilitate the most violent gangs and older criminally active gang members.