Contemporary societies are culturally diverse. This diversity can be the result of different historical and social processes and might affect the uniformity and efficiency of criminal justice systems. Colonization of indigenous populations that started in the 15th century later European colonization of Africa and migration flows following the Second World War have contributed to this diversity in different ways. The growing importance acquired by culture in the criminal law domain went hand in hand with the attention received by it both in the human rights field (especially linked to minority rights) and in the field of sociological and criminological theories.
Nowadays, crimes such as female genital mutilation, forced marriages, and other behaviors grounded in “culture or tradition” form the object of several international human rights instruments and media reports. The way in which criminal justice systems deal with such cases, and more in general with cultural factors, varies greatly. Different instruments have been proposed to allow the consideration of cultural elements within criminal proceedings among which (in common law countries) is the formalization of an autonomous “cultural defense.” However, international human rights instruments, especially those protecting the rights of vulnerable subjects such as women and children, have repeatedly discouraged states to take into account “culture, religion, and tradition” as grounds for justification (see, e.g., the Istanbul Convention).
Criminal proceedings are not the only setting to deal with culture and crime. More recently, the development of alternative dispute resolution mechanisms and restorative justice both within formal and informal (community) settings have given an additional option to take culture into account in the resolution of disputes (in terms of procedures used and normativities in play). Concerns exist with regard to the substantive and procedural rights of participants to these programs. However, these alternatives could represent a way to allow a certain degree of legal pluralism and facilitate access to justice for minority groups.
Brooke B. Chambers and Joachim J. Savelsberg
Genocide and ethnic cleansing are among the most deadly human-made catastrophes. Together with other forms of government violence, such as war crimes and crimes against humanity, the death toll they caused during the 20th century alone approximates 200 million. This is an estimated ten times higher than the number of deaths resulting from all violence committed in civil society during the same period. Yet the definition of genocide, its perception as a social problem, and the designation of responsible actors as criminals are all relatively recent. Globalization, international organizations, nongovernmental organizations, and cultural shifts are interrelated contributors to this process of redefinition.
While genocide and ethnic cleansing often appear to be unpredictable and chaotic, they nonetheless underlie a socio-logic across time and space. As the field of study evolved, scholars debated the role of authority and ideology in enabling violence. Today, consensus has shifted away from deterministic explanations about intrinsic hatred engrained in particular groups to sociological factors. They include the role of political regimes, war, organization, and narratives of ethnic hatred, each of which can play a role in facilitating violence.
Recent developments also include the creation of new institutional mechanisms that seek to punish perpetrators and prevent the occurrence of genocide and ethnic cleansing. Among them are criminal justice responses that work potentially through deterrence, but also—more fundamentally—through the initiation of cultural change. Prosecutions, as well as supplemental mechanisms such as truth commissions, may indeed lead to a radical shift in the perception of mass violence and those responsible for it, thereby delegitimizing genocidal and ethnic cleansing campaigns.
Mark S. Fleisher
Radical culture change instigated by conflict among diverse cultural groups has had adverse social and psychological effects witnessed by the rise of youth gangs. A close look at the processes of gang formation in Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York City illustrates that rapid changes in core cultural systems had a chilling effect on ethnic groups’ core cultural practices, such as adolescents’ rites of passage to adulthood. In the absence of culturally prescribed, ritual activities, adolescents have not been prepared to assume their culture’s prescribed adult roles. That radical loss in a core cultural tradition has adversely affected adolescents’ behavior. Research in the early decades of the 20th century in Chicago reported that adolescent gang members experienced depression, anxiety, personality disorders, and addictions as consequents of violence clashes between Chicago’s native white population and European immigrants and black migrants. Over the decades of gang research in America and Europe, sociologists and anthropologists have come to agree on cultural elements in theories of gang formation: American and European youth gangs are derivative of cultural clashes, which engender racism and fundamental antagonistic changes in cultural systems’ economic production and social control. Effects of hostile culture change include social discord, unemployment, gang, and violence.
Social network research on adolescent gangs has shown that gangs are not closed social groups limiting gang members’ interpersonal contact to co-group members. Gang and non-group adolescents differ in attributes (sex, age, education), but structural measures of adolescent gang groups and non-groups are similar. Network research has carefully examined gang and non-gang adolescents’ personal networks. A personal network of male and female gang members includes people they know who know them. A personal network’s composition can include a few friends, close friends, and best friends, and numerous others inside a gang group as well as members of other gangs and non-gang members. Personal network relations connect gang adolescents to their families, friends, and neighborhoods, despite gang membership. Gang ethnography describing youth gang members and their families has shown that gang youth have been victims of domestic and intimate partner violence, experience periods of episodic homelessness away their natal and extended kin, as well as fictive families, and suffer adverse mental health consequences.
Street gangs are prevalent throughout the United States. Recently, law enforcement agencies estimated there are approximately 30,000 gangs and 850,000 gang members across the United States. Gang members commit assaults, street-level drug trafficking, robberies, and threats and intimidation. However, they most commonly commit low-level property crime and marijuana use. Rival gang members or law-abiding citizens are often the targets of these crimes. Other than crime, the influence of gangs can disrupt the socializing power of schools, families, and communities. These institutions help socialize young people to learn and follow the appropriate rules of a law-abiding society. The presence of gangs and gang-related activity induces fear in the local community and great concern among citizens, impacting the quality of life of neighborhoods and cities. To confront these concerns, law enforcement is often considered the first line of defense. Despite the tenuous relationship between law enforcement and gangs, police officers have special knowledge and access to gang members and at-risk youth, which puts law enforcement in a unique position to reduce juvenile gang violence through prevention, intervention, and suppression efforts.
There are several ways in which law enforcement responds to gang violence. In its efforts to prevent gang violence, law enforcement plays a crucial role in regulating gang activity and in preventing those at risk of joining gangs. Primary prevention is broad in scope as the programs and strategies focus on the entire community. Primary prevention programs, such as the Gang Resistance Education and Training (GREAT) program, target a wide population and attempt to teach youths the skills to resist peer pressure to join a gang. Secondary prevention programs narrow their focus by identifying and reaching out to youths at risk for joining gangs. Secondary prevention programs, such as Los Angeles’s GRYD Secondary Prevention Program, offer psychological and substance abuse counseling, tutoring, and employment training, among other services. Law enforcement can also reduce gang violence through intervention by implementing strategies that provide alternatives to gang membership and strategies that prevent gang activity. Gang alternative programs, such as the Gang Employment Program (GEP), aim to get individuals to leave their gangs, but also provide opportunities to prevent the individual from rejoining the gang. Gang activity prevention strategies, such as the Dallas Anti-Gang Initiative’s enforcement of curfew and truancy laws, focus on specific activities, places, or behaviors associated with gang activity. These strategies typically include special laws, mediation, and situational crime prevention strategies. As a last resort, law enforcement responds to gang violence through suppression strategies. Suppression strategies are deterrence-based strategies. Although the effectiveness of these aforementioned programs varies, law enforcement is better utilized in a prevention capacity rather than an enforcement one. Moreover, law enforcement should not tackle gang violence alone, but in partnership with other community organizations and stakeholders such as Boston’s Operation Ceasefire or Chicago’s Project Safe Neighborhoods. These partnerships with community organizations and visible commitment to combating gang violence through prevention and suppression efforts can build trust and increase police legitimacy in at-risk communities.
Jonathan Grossman and Ami Pedahzur
Since 2001, unprecedented resources have been invested in research into global terrorism, resulting in a dramatic rise in the number of academic publications on the topic. Works by scholars from predominantly quantitative disciplines predominate in this literature, and the unfolding development of data science and big data research has accentuated the trend. Many researchers in global terrorism created event databases, in which every row represents a distinct terrorist attack and every column a variable (e.g., the date and location of the attack, the number of casualties, etc.). Such event data are usually extracted from news sources and undergo a process of coding—the translation of unstructured text into numerical or categorical values. Some researchers collect and code their data manually; others use an automated script, or combine the efforts of humans and software. Other researchers who use event data do not collect and process their data at all; rather, they analyze other scholars’ databases. Academics and practitioners have relied on such databases for the cross-regional study of terrorism, analyzing their data statistically in an attempt to identify trends, build theories, predict future incidents, and formulate policies.
Unfortunately, event data on terrorism often suffer from substantial issues of accuracy and reproducibility. A comparison between the data on suicide terrorism in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories in two of the most prominent databases in the field and an independent database of confirmed events reveals the magnitude of these problems. Among the most common pitfalls for event data are replication problems (the sources that the databases cite, if there are any at all, cannot be retrieved), selection bias (events that should have been included in the database are not in it), description bias (the details of events in the database are incorrect), and coding problems (for example, duplicate events). Some of these problems originate in the press sources that are used to create the databases, usually English-language newspaper articles, and others are attributable to deficient data-gathering and/or coding practices on the part of database creators and coders. In many cases, these researchers do not understand the local contexts, languages, histories, and cultures of the regions they study. Further, many coders are not trained in qualitative methods and are thus incapable of critically reading and accurately coding their unstructured sources. Overcoming these challenges will require a change of attitude: truly accurate and impactful cross-regional data on terrorism can only be achieved through collaboration across projects, disciplines, and fields of expertise. The creators of event databases are encouraged to adopt the high standards of transparency, replicability, data-sharing, and version control that are prevalent in the STEM sciences and among software developers. More than anything, they need to acknowledge that without good and rigorous qualitative work during the stage of data collection, there can be no good quantitative work during the stage of data analysis.
Finn-Aage Esbensen and L. Thomas Winfree
The socio-demographic characteristics of gang-involved youth are a focal concern of contemporary gang researchers; policy analysts; politicians; and, in many cases, the general public. A broad overview of gang member characteristics is a critical and natural precursor for any policy response to gangs, a task that has historically included widely used socio-demographic characteristics (e.g., race or ethnicity, age, urban or rural residence, gender, and sex) and various forms of illegal and illicit behavior. Similar lists of individual and collective characteristics such as these have shaped public policy responses to youth gangs in the United States, Western Europe, and indeed around the globe. Furthermore, given the attention paid to “illegal” migration trends at the end of the 21st century’s second decade, policymakers, law enforcement officials, and others often tie immigrant status to gang membership, including immigrants’ alleged involvement in violent forms of delinquency. The following image of street gang members emerges: (a) gangs include girls as well as boys; (b) the sex composition of the gang affects the level of delinquency of gang members; (c) gang members reflect the racial or ethnic composition of the community in which they exist; (d) gang members are not disproportionately members of immigrant groups; (e) youth age in and out of gangs during early- to mid-adolescence; and (f) while in the gang, youth commit significantly more crime than their non-gang peers.