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Article

Lauren Magee and Chris Melde

Street gangs have been the focus of attention for over a century, largely due to their reputation for involvement in illegal activities, especially violence. Indeed, gangs use this reputation for violence as a means of survival, as they seek to intimidate others in order to protect their members from attacks from rival gangs, and to limit the willingness of community members to cooperate with law enforcement officials. Research on the nature of these groups suggests they thrive in marginalized communities, where there are high rates of poverty, family instability, and limited institutional support. Much of the information on street gangs stems from data collected in the United States, but these groups have been documented across the globe in not insignificant numbers. While gangs certainly differ in their structure and organizational capacity, these groups are routinely associated with a disproportionate involvement in delinquent and criminal acts at the local level. Perhaps most concerning, gangs and gang members are known to be associated with substantially higher rates of interpersonal violence, including homicide, than non-gang-involved persons. From a developmental perspective, even brief periods of gang membership have been found to have negative consequences across the early portion of the life course, including reduced educational attainment, lower income, family instability, and a higher likelihood of arrest and incarceration. Overall, the negative effects gangs have on communities appears to outweigh any of the short-term benefits these groups provide their members.

Article

Vanessa R. Panfil

Recent gang research has explored various dimensions of diversity including sexuality and has provided important insights regarding sexual identity and sexual behavior within the context of youth street gang involvement. Insights include the experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or questioning (LGBTQ) gang members such as their prevalence rates, reasons for joining, gang activities, homophobia within youth street gangs, and how gang structure and composition affect their ability to be open about their sexuality within the gang context. These insights were preceded by scholars’ descriptions of the “homosexual activities” of gang members, particularly in mid-20th-century works, but early-21st-century works include empirical research and documentaries that explore the lived experiences of self-identified LGBTQ gang members. Another major area of study explores the ways that young women are subjected to various forms of sexual violence within gangs, partially because female gang members are often viewed as sex objects. Girls may be “sexed in” to a gang, targeted for sexual violence to exact retribution, raped as a tool of control, or coerced into commercial sexual exploitation. Sexual behavior and sexual identity are often linked with gendered processes and expectations for gang members, which similarly factor into our understanding of the youth street gang experience. Other topics of interest in this field include determining the relationships between childhood sexual abuse and later gang involvement; how to better research sexual autonomy and sexual agency (choice) that may become available to young people within their gangs; as well as addressing extensions of sexuality, such as by examining the relationship between pregnancy or parenthood and leaving the gang, focusing on shifts in available time, priorities, and identity.

Article

Finn-Aage Esbensen and Cheryl L. Maxson

The Eurogang Program of Research is a loosely knit network of researchers and policymakers with an interest in better understanding troublesome youth groups. While the group is guided by a steering committee, that is the extent of the organizational structure. Members of the network volunteer to host the website, maintain the listserv, organize workshops, and engage in research that adopts the Eurogang definition, instruments, and methodologies. The Eurogang Program has as its primary goal the fostering of multisite, multi-method, comparative research on street gangs. Over the past two decades, this group of more than 200 scholars has convened 17 international workshops in Europe and the United States. The Eurogang Program does not have a steady funding source; however, over the years various network members have written proposals for funding to government agencies, sought support from non-profit organizations and foundations, and requested funding from their universities. Through a series of workshops from 1998 through 2004, the Eurogang group developed common definitional approaches, an integrated research design, and model research instruments. From 2005 through 2017, the group has continued to host substantively-focused workshops that examine research informed by the Eurogang framework. Since its inception, this Eurogang group has spawned several retrospective cross-national studies, articles in professional journals, five edited volumes of scholarship, and a manual that provides a history of the group and its guiding principles as well as information on the development and use of the five Eurogang research instruments (i.e., city-level descriptors, expert survey, youth survey, ethnography guidelines, and prevention/intervention program inventory). The Eurogang Program Manual and instruments are available on the Eurogang website. While much has been accomplished, much remains to be learned.

Article

Christian L. Bolden

Gang organization has been an aspect of research that is often explored and debated. The concept of organization is intertwined with questions of whether gangs have leaders, whether gangs can be considered organized crime, which groups are actually street gangs, and other related questions. Though there are some crossover categories, street gangs are viewed as distinctly different than organized crime groups, prison gangs, outlaw motorcycle clubs, skinheads, stoners, and taggers. Gang structures are widely varied, with a few being highly organized and most being loose networks of associates. The organization of a gang may change over time. There is an array of membership types that range from core members who might maintain affiliation well into adulthood to temporary members who only spend a short time in the gang. Gangs may have sub-group clique structures based on age-graded cohorts, neighborhoods, or criminal activity. Leadership roles in gangs rarely take the form of a recognizable figurehead. These variations have led to a plethora of gang categories that include evolutionary typologies that place gangs by their stage in criminal sophistication, behavioral typologies that identify gangs by the type of criminal behavior the members engage in, and structural typologies that differentiate gangs by the characteristics of their composition. It is important to note that most of the following gang typologies are focused on gangs in the United States and may not be as relevant in other countries. Major gang affiliations are also explored. Like other aspects of organizations, affiliations are not stable, as gang alliances are volatile. Despite the ability of affiliations to fluctuate, this categorization strategy is commonly used outside of academic research.

Article

Gangs have been subjects of extensive empirical research since the 1920s. Scholarly interest in gangs was largely due to gang members’ increased likelihood of engaging in delinquent behavior. Gang members have been involved in criminal activities ranging from drug dealing to theft, property offenses, gun violence, and homicide. In the 1980s, there was nationwide concern about gangs as violent gang-related crimes increased and drew media attention. As a result, important legislation was implemented that made gang membership illegal. These policies were designed to curb gang involvement and de-escalate gang violence. The legislation included civil gang injunctions, the development of gang databases, and the formation and strengthening of gang task force units. Indeed, the policies resulted in an increase of gang unit officers focused on mitigating gang involvement and gang crime. Officer strategies focused on stopping, detaining, and arresting individuals who often fit certain stereotypes. Specifically, officers routinely based gang-related encounters on suspects’ race, age, clothing, gender, and geographic location, focusing mostly on young men of color in economically depressed neighborhoods. Perhaps unsurprisingly, a number of problems and concerns related to aggressive and biased police behavior surfaced, resulting in questionable outcomes of gang suppression. Research suggests that directed patrols and removing leadership might not be effective. Instead, alternate policies should include policing in conjunction with support from community-based nonprofit organizations and research that accounts for gang members’ experiences of law enforcement strategies.

Article

Juvenile risk assessment instruments have provided juvenile courts with the opportunity to make standardized decisions concerning sentences and intervention needs. Risk assessments have replaced the reliance on professional decision-making practices in which court officials relied on their hunches or previous experience to determine what to do with youth once they became involved in corrections. A primary goal of juvenile risk assessment is to improve case management and help courts focus resources on juveniles who exhibit the greatest intervention needs. Further, juvenile risk assessments play a critical role in estimating which juveniles will likely reoffend by identifying factors that increase the propensity of future offending. Although some researchers believe that the implementation of standardized juvenile risk assessments is a good strategy for reducing biased decision-making for racial/ethnic minorities, other researchers have called into question the extent to which risk assessments overestimate risk for certain juveniles, especially those in minority groups who have a history of being marginalized due to their race, culture, or ethnicity. This article provides an overview of how well juvenile risk assessment instruments predict future delinquency across race and ethnicity. The review suggests that in general, risk assessments do a good job in predicting recidivism across racial/ethnic groups for diverse populations inside and outside the United States. However, there is still some room for improvement concerning the assessment of risk and needs for ethnic minorities. In addition, while there are some studies that do not report the predictive validity of risk assessment scores across race/ethnicity, risk assessments overall seem to be a promising effort to correctly classify and/or identify juveniles who are at greatest risk for future recidivism.

Article

Allison Ann Payne and Denise C. Gottfredson

School violence, drug use, bullying, theft, and vandalism are costly and interfere with academic achievement. Beyond the cost of personal injury and property damage and loss, school crime is costly because it interferes with academic achievement and reduces the ability of schools to carry out their educational mission. Fear of victimization influences students’ attendance, such that students are more likely to avoid school activities or places, or even school itself, due to fear of attack or harm. Teachers in disorderly schools also spend a large proportion of their time coping with behavior problems rather than instructing students, resulting in lower levels of student academic engagement, academic performance, and eventually graduation rates. Student misbehavior is also one of the primary sources of teacher turnover in schools. Responses to school crime have become increasingly formal since the 1990s, with greater recourse to arrest and a turn toward juvenile courts rather than school-based discipline, furthered by zero-tolerance policies and increased hiring of uniformed officers to police the schools. The shift has been from administrative discretion to mandatory penalties and from in-school discipline to increasing use of suspension or arrest. At the same time, there has been a considerable investment in the use of surveillance cameras and metal detectors. There is no evidence to suggest that this tightening of school discipline has reduced school crime. By contrast, considerable evidence supports the effectiveness of alternative strategies designed to prevent youth crime and delinquency. Several school-based programs targeting student factors such as self-control, social competency, and attachment to school have been demonstrated in rigorous research to be effective for reducing crime and delinquency. In addition, several aspects of the way schools are organized and managed influence crime and disorder. The term “school climate” encompasses several school characteristics that influence crime and disorder. Evidence supports the importance of the discipline management of a school, including both the fairness and consistency of rules and rule enforcement as well as the clarification and communication of behavioral norms in reducing crime and disorder in schools. The social climate within the school, specifically the existence of a positive and communal climate among all members of the school community, is also important. Research demonstrates that is possible to manipulate these aspects of school climate. Rigorous research shows that efforts to increase clarity and consistency of rule enforcement and to clarify norms for behavior are effective for reducing crime and disorder. More research is needed to test a fully comprehensive intervention aimed at creating a more communal social climate, but preliminary studies suggest positive effects. Several challenges to creating more positive school climates are discussed, and possible solutions are suggested.