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Article

Street gang activity has garnered academic and public attention for many decades. Compared with other youth groups, street gangs contribute disproportionately to crime and violence, though the vast majority of crime and violence in the United States is unrelated to gang activity. A distinctive aspect in the study of gangs is the multiple dimensions in which gangs are situated. Depending on the research interest, gang activity may be construed as an independent variable (as a cause) or a dependent variable (as an effect). Moreover, gang activity simultaneously represents multiple levels of analysis: the individual level (gang member), the group level (gang), and the macro level (neighborhoods and broader geographical places in which gangs form and transform). These multiple dimensions present a wide variety of research streams in which to study gangs. Where and why gang activity emerges, when and why individuals join and leave gangs, the wide-ranging diversity in gang structure and organization are but a few of the many areas gang scholars have focused on in order to describe and explain gangs and gang members. Some research areas, such as the association between gang membership and criminal offending and the risk factors for gang joining, have been researched quite extensively. Other areas, such as the nature and extent of gang migration outside larger cities and desistance processes from the gang, have not received or have only recently begun to receive intensive and consistent scholarly attention. Definitional matters are also paramount and inextricably linked to understanding gang activity. How should we define “street gangs,” how should “gang membership” be defined and determined, when and how should a crime be designated as “gang related”? These definitional issues have sparked considerable and sometimes heated debates, and consensus remains elusive. It is important to be mindful of these various dimensions, streams, and issues as we continue our efforts to describe and document street gangs and enhance our understanding of gang processes. Successful strategies for the response to and reduction of street gang activity are contingent on them.

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

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

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.

Article

Race and ethnicity represent a pivotal issue in almost any conversation regarding gang members. These two concepts have been invariably linked in both research and the larger social world. Images of this connection invade our social milieu and appear frequently in movies, television, news, and music. However, academic research also contributes to this perception. Much of the early work, as well as a significant portion of the qualitative work on gangs, perpetuates the continued examination of racial and ethnic homogeneous gangs, with a focus on African American and Hispanic groups. This work ignores increasing problems among other racial and ethnic groups, such as Asians and Native Americans, within the literature. More recently, however, the intricacies of this relationship are becoming clearer, including the growing involvement of White individuals and the fact that gangs are increasingly multiracial. Furthermore, with the development of the Eurogang project in the late 1990s, research regarding these groups in Europe, as well as in other countries across the world, has become more plentiful, further expanding our knowledge regarding gangs and the role of race and ethnicity, as well as immigration and migration. As the relationship between race and ethnicity and gang membership takes on more meaning, numerous explanations have been developed to account for this connection. Much of the research, both past and present, centers on the association between race and ethnicity and the impacts of social disorganization, discrimination, immigration, and cumulative disadvantage. Community and environmental factors play a crucial role in explaining why gangs thrive in communities often occupied by racial and ethnic minorities. Relatedly, external threats, specifically violence from other groups, can provide the impetus for gang development in neighborhoods marked by disorder; thus, other explanations center on violence and the role that gangs play in mitigating this threat while serving as a protective factor for the youth in the community. The risk factor approach, gaining more prominence in gang literature, investigates individual risk for gang membership, as well as the cumulative effects of risk factors. These various frameworks assist in beginning to understand the underlying factors contributing to gang membership. With regard to policy recommendations, investigating “race and ethnicity specific” risk factors as well how these risk factors might impact programming remain key. In order to fully comprehend the development of gangs, a number of gang researchers have called for the need to understand the different historical experiences of racial and ethnic groups within the United States. For example, the histories of Hispanic and African American groups impact their experiences and thus may result in different pathways to gang membership. And yet, in many respects, these groups are still treated as single entities, ignoring their distinct histories. In fact, there remains a paucity of information regarding cross-group comparisons that examine actual differences between racial and ethnic groups. Without a closer examination of the relationship between race, ethnicity, and gang membership, effective gang policies and practices will remain out of reach.

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

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.

Article

Haley Bullard and Shannon Reid

Much of the ongoing concern about the presence of gangs and gang members in the community has to do with the association between street gangs and violence. Decades of research on street gangs demonstrates the complexity of the violent perpetration and victimization of gang members. Although the violence attributed to gang members reached its peak in the late 1980s and early 1990s, gang members continue to be disproportionately involved in violence, both as perpetrators and victims. Understanding gang violence requires careful consideration of the overlapping and intersecting relationships between violence and gang identity, victimization, perpetration, gender, and space. Violence plays an important role in the creation and maintenance of gang identity. Research on violence participation by gang members has demonstrated that gang violence can have both symbolic and instrumental purposes, and that this violence helps the gang build a collective identity and makes violence more normative. Despite some continued misconceptions about the role of female gang members and their presence in gangs, women make up a substantial portion of gang members, and any discussion of the relationship between gangs and violence must also consider the impact of gender on violence participation and victimization. Both male and female gang members are impacted by violence, but levels of participation and types of risk can vary by gender. The complex and gendered aspects of gang violence can make the prevention, intervention, and suppression of gang violence difficult tasks for law enforcement and policymakers. There are a range of perspectives on how best to reduce gang violence. Some researchers advocate early prevention programs to keep youth from joining gangs; others focus on ways to pull youth out of gangs at critical moments, such as when they enter emergency services. Other programs and policies are aimed at reducing gang violence that is ongoing in the community. These programs, such as Operation Ceasefire and Project Safe Neighborhoods, have utilized a focused deterrence framework to curb gang violence. All of these programs are aimed at reducing the amount of violence gang members participate in an attempt to minimize the risk of future violent victimization. Research on gang violence continues to grow and includes new avenues of research. The utilization of innovative methodologies, such as social network analysis, and new areas of research, such as examining the impact of social media on gang violence, continue to advance our knowledge of gang violence and its causes, correlates, and impact.

Article

The study of gangs has emerged alongside the use of a research methodology known as ethnography. Ethnography is based on participant observation and interviews to provide a detailed description of a wide variety of social groups and settings. The researcher is trained to immerse himself or herself into the setting and group of interest and to learn the way participants think and feel. The origins of ethnography date back to W. E. B. Du Bois and the Atlanta School along with the University of Chicago, known as the Chicago School. Gang research began in the 1920s in the city of Chicago with additional studies emerging in Boston, New York City, and Los Angeles. Ethnographic researchers learned to rely on key participants to provide access to social settings and social groups, often very different from those of the researcher. The social work orientation of reaching out to gang members through the use of gang workers allowed researchers the opportunity to obtain additional forms of access. Nevertheless, the principal investigator remained the source for interpretation of the data and results. In the 1970s and 1980s greater awareness developed regarding the role of insiders and outsiders to particular groups and settings. In response, researchers moved ethnography into one of three strands of discovery: (1) cultivating an outsider role to present a non-threatening presence; (2) working in collaboration with gang members; and (3) attempting to nurture an insider status through enhanced membership roles. Contemporary gang ethnographies have moved toward utilizing mixed methodological designs as highlighted by the Eurogang program and more critically approached strategies emerging in the United States. In addition, research in Latin America has provided a greater form of reflexivity as primarily white researchers have outlined their initial standing in the community and how they have worked to develop rapport. Ethnography continues to be of importance for the study of gangs but has increasingly become more conscious as toward how personal biographies and backgrounds shape the data collection process. In so doing, ethnography has become more focused on reducing bias and increasing ethical forms of justice.

Article

Dana Peterson

Sex and gender are often conflated, but there are important distinctions between the two. This is true also with terms related to gender identity, including masculinities and femininities or the performance of gender. In addition, the terms gang and gang member are contested, so it is important to establish a basis for understanding these terms in order to discuss the relationships between gender and gang involvement. Historically, gang-involved young women and men were described in terms of gender extremes, with scholarship and journalistic accounts focusing on the perceived aggressive masculinity of lower class males—and the deviant sexuality of females, who were rarely seen as legitimate full-fledged members of those groups. By the 1980s and 1990s, young women were recognized in scholarship as “real” gang members, and qualitative researchers sought to provide voice to them and examine issues of gender and gender dynamics in gangs, while quantitative researchers sought to explore similarities and differences between girls and boys in gangs, often through large scale studies using self-report surveys of adolescents. Feminist criminology and burgeoning queer criminology have pushed and blurred the boundaries of gender and gang involvement, asserting the importance of taking into account multiple, intersecting identities that differentially structure the experiences of young people, and of the troubling heteronormative, heterosexist, and cisgendered assumptions that have permeated criminology. Moving away from these assumptions means accounting, for example, not only for gender but also for the multiplicative effects of race, ethnicity, class, sexuality, ability, etc.; it means considering what the presence of young women in stereotypically hypermasculine environments signifies for gender performance, moving away from assumptions of opposite sex attraction that cast females in supportive and dependent roles with males, and accounting for the experiences of gang members who identify outside gender and sexual orientation binaries. These issues provide fruitful avenues for sensitive and productive future scholarship on gender and gang involvement.

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 and Reneé Lamphere

Social networks in gangs refers to both a theoretical and methodological framework. Research within this perspective challenges the idea of gangs as organized hierarchies, suggesting instead that gangs are semi-structured or loosely knit networks and that actions are more accurately related to network subgroupings than to gangs as a whole. The situated location of individuals within a network creates social capital and the fluidity for members to move beyond the boundaries of the group, cooperating and positively interacting with members of rival gangs. Before the millennium, the use of social network analysis as a method to study gangs was rare, but it has since increased in popularity, becoming a regular part of the gang research canon. Gang networks can be studied at the group level and the individual level and can be used for intervention strategies. The concept of gangs as social networks is sometimes confused with social networking sites or social media, which encompasses its own rich and evolving array of gang research. Gang members use social networking sites for instrumental, expressive, and consumer purposes. While the use of network media allows for gang cultural dissemination, it simultaneously allows law enforcement to track gang activity.

Article

Timothy R. Lauger

Street gangs are, by definition, social groups that contain patterns of interactions between gang members, associates, and other gangs in their social environment. The structure and content of these interaction patterns, or group processes, are essential for both understanding gang life and explaining collective and individual behavior. For example, variations in organizational sophistication, internal cohesion, and individual-level social integration influence the day-to-day experiences of gang members and can affect criminal behavior. Social ties between gang members are also mediums for street socialization and the development and/or transmission of gang culture. As prospective gang members age and become exposed to street life, they gravitate to peers and collectively learn about how to negotiate their social environment. They connect to other gang members and model the gang’s ideals to become accepted by the group. Routine interactions in the gang communicate the nuances of gang culture and explain the group’s expectations for violent behavior. These lessons are reinforced when conflicts with other groups arise and contentious interactions escalate into serious threats or actual violence. Cultural meanings developed in the gang can alter how a member perceives social situations, various social roles (e.g., gender roles), and his or her sense of self. Interactions within the gang develop the gang’s collective identity, which becomes an ideal standard for members to pursue. Gang members perform this idealized notion of “gang member” in public settings, often acting as if they are capable of extreme violence. For some members these performances may be fleeting and largely disconnected from the ideals to which they truly aspire, while others may fully embrace the ideals of the gang. Such variation is contingent on social processes within the gang and how socially integrated an individual is to other members. Researching social processes within gangs provides a wealth of information about how life in the gang influences gang member behavior.

Article

Focused deterrence strategies are increasingly being implemented in the United States to reduce serious violent crime committed by gangs and other criminally-active groups, recurring offending by highly-active individual offenders, and crime and disorder problems generated by overt street-level drug markets. These strategies are framed by an action research model that is common to both problem-oriented policing and public health interventions to reduce violence. Briefly, focused deterrence strategies seek to change offender behavior by understanding underlying crime-producing dynamics and conditions that sustain recurring crime problems and by implementing an appropriately focused blended strategy of law enforcement, community mobilization, and social service actions. Direct communications of increased enforcement risks and the availability of social service assistance to target groups and individuals is a defining characteristic of “pulling levers” strategies. The focused deterrence approach was first pioneered in Boston, Massachusetts and eventually tested in other jurisdictions. The available empirical evidence suggests these strategies generate noteworthy violence reduction impacts and should be part of a broader portfolio of crime reduction strategies available to policy makers and practitioners. While focused deterrence strategies attempt to prevent crime by changing offender perceptions of sanction risk, complementary crime prevention efforts seem to support the crime control efficacy of these programs. These strategies also seek to change offender behavior by mobilizing community action, enhancing procedural justice, and improving police legitimacy. Focused deterrence strategies hold great promise in reducing serious violence while improving strained relationships between minority neighborhoods and the police departments that serve them.

Article

Heather Shore

The concept of the criminal underworld has played a powerful role in media representations of serious criminality from the early 20th century. Even before this period, the idea of a subterranean “otherworld” that mirrored and mimicked the more respectable “upperworld” can be identified in published texts across Western Europe and North America, and in the colonial cities of empire. Colorful terms such as the “netherworld,” “deeps,” “stews,” “sinks,” “rookeries,” “dens,” and “dives” described the slums that developed in many 19th-century cities. But by the 19th-century, slum life was increasingly correlated with criminality by the press, social investigators, fiction writers, and penal practitioners in the urban landscape. Earlier texts that described criminal types and ascribed to them a specific set of practices and values (languages, rituals, secret codes, the places in which they “congregated”) can be found in the 16th and 17th centuries. In England, dramatists such as Thomas Harman, Robert Greene, and Thomas Dekker described such villainy in a new genre that would become known as “rogue literature.” Other European countries also had traditions of rogue literature that became popular in the early modern period. From the 18th century, the emergence of penal reform and new systems of law enforcement in the Western world saw concerns about crime reflected in the expansion of print culture. A demand for crime themed texts, including broadsheets, criminal biographies, and crime novels, further popularized the notion of a distinct criminal underworld. However, it would be in the 20th century that the underworld moved more directly onto political agendas. From the 1920s, events in North American cities would explicitly shape the public awareness of the underworld and organized crime. Within a relatively short time of gang warfare breaking out in cities such as New York and Chicago, the “gangster” and the underworld that he (apparently) inhabited became the subject of a global popular crime culture. Film, cheap fiction, and villain/police memoirs from the early 1930s popularized the “gangster.” Paul Muni memorably evoked the life of Al Capone in his character, Antonio “Tony” Camonte in Scarface (1932). Since then, gangsters have rarely gone out of fashion. In the 21st century, the relationship between the underworld and upperworld continues to be portrayed in popular culture. Television dramas like Boardwalk Empire and Peaky Blinders successfully build on an unacknowledged consensus about the existence of the underworld. Indeed, the press, police, and politicians continue to refer to the criminal underworld in a way that gives it solid form. There are few attempts to critically engage in discussions about the underworld or to provide a more meaningful definition.

Article

David C. Pyrooz and Richard K. Moule, Jr.

It was once presumed that costs of Internet adoption were too great for gang members to absorb. They lacked the financial resources to access the Internet or the technological know-how to use it. That is no longer the case, which leads to two questions: What are gang members doing online? What are the responses to gangs online? The growing research on this topic indicates that gang members are online and using the Internet at a rate comparable to their peers. This occurs in the United States and abroad. Gangs do not exploit the Internet to its criminal potential, even though the law enforcement community suggests otherwise. This is most likely due to the low technological capacities of gang members. However, gang members do engage in higher rates of crime and deviance online than their non-gang peers. Gang members also use the Internet to posture, provoke, and project group power, particularly on leading social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, which in turn allows activities occurring online to have ramifications for crime and violence offline. It is debatable whether online space is as important to gangs as physical space, but the Internet is undoubtedly a valuable medium to gangs. The potential for conflict and the posting of gang images has attracted the attention of law enforcement as well as researchers to document this activity. Platforms are being developed to anticipate the spilling of online gang conflicts offline. Since the Internet is a value-neutral medium that engages youth and young adults, it is anticipated that social media and the Internet will continue to appeal to gangs and gang members for the foreseeable future.

Article

R.V. Gundur

Prison gangs are often formally referred to as “security threat groups” or “disruptive groups.” Compared to street gangs, they are understudied criminal organizations. As is the case with many organized criminal groups, official definitions of prison gangs tend to be broad, typically defining one as any group of three or more people who engage in disruptive behavior in a carceral setting. Many prison gangs, however, have other, distinct characteristics, such as having formed or matured in adult prisons, being composed primarily of adults, having a clear organizational structure that allows the gang to persist, and having a presence both in and out of prison. Research on prison gangs has been sporadic and focuses primarily, though not exclusively, on the United States. The first studies of inmate life occurred in the 1940s and 1950s, and in prisons that did not have modern incarnations of prison gangs. Until the 1980s, only a few academics described the existence of prison gangs or, their precursor, cliques. The 1980s and early 1990s saw the first studies of prison gangs, notably Camp and Camp’s historical study of prison gangs within the United States from the 1950s to the 1980s and Fong and Buentello’s work that documented the foundation and evolution of prison gangs in the Texas prison system in the 1980s. These studies marked some of the first, and last, significant, systematic studies of prison gangs until the new century. The 21st century brought renewed attention to security threat groups, as scholars from a variety of disciplines, including sociology, criminology, and economics, engaged in the study of prison society and how inmate groups influence it. Some of these scholars introduced new methodologies to the study of prison gangs, thereby significantly increasing the available knowledge on these groups. Research on prison gangs has expanded to consider four broad categories: defining prison gangs and describing their formation and evolution; evaluating prison gangs’ organizational structure and governance in carceral and free settings; assessing the role of prison gangs on reoffending; and gauging how to control prison gangs both in and out of prison.

Article

After nearly a hundred years of debate and analysis, the gang concept remains hotly contested within the social sciences. Once thought to be an exclusively American phenomenon, the study of gangs has become increasingly global over the last decade. Countries from every world region have observed the emergence of gangs and gang-like groups. In some places, gangs resemble their American counterparts, while in others they engage not only in petty crime and drug trafficking but in targeted assassinations, corruption of public officials, and racketeering as well. These activities make them less like the delinquent youth groups they were once conceived as and more akin to organized crime. In less stable and violent contexts, gangs have even been incorporated into ethnic militias, rebel groups, and paramilitaries or have taken on a more vigilante ethos by combating violence and providing some semblance of order. The remarkable proliferation of the gang form and the incredible variation in the phenomenon across the globe requires a reassessment of the gang concept. In the limited literature that focuses on the study of gangs cross-nationally, several conceptualizations have been proposed. Some scholars have attempted to separate smaller street gangs from a variety of other related phenomena: prison gangs, drug gangs, and organized crime. They have done so by crafting a more restrictive concept. However, while separating street gangs from other criminal groups may make sense in the American or European context, it applies less well to other parts of the globe where such organizational forms have become thoroughly integrated, thus blurring these traditional conceptual boundaries. At the same time, some scholars have advocated for a conceptual framework that captures the transformative nature of gangs and encompasses any and all types of gangs and gang-like groups. Such an evolutionary framework fails, however, to distinguish between gangs and a huge variety of criminal and political nonstate armed groups that share little in terms of their origins, motivations, or activities. It can be argued that the best conceptualization is a minimal one that incorporates gangs and many gang-like groups but avoids conceptual stretching to include virtually all nonstate armed groups. Ultimately, contemporary scholars of gangs within any national context must be increasingly attentive to the global dimensions of the gang organizational form and the various overlapping and multifaceted relationships they maintain with a variety of other nonstate armed groups.

Article

Jason Gravel and George E. Tita

Though often not mentioned by name, the importance of social networks in explaining criminal behavior, delinquency, and patterns has long been recognized in the study of crime. Theories that explain criminal behavior at the individual level being learned through the impacts of peer influences presume that the transmission of ideas and influences flow among social ties (networks) that link individuals. Cultural theories of crime work in the same way. At the community level, delinquency and criminal behavior are born among members of a community or group that adhere to a particular cultural set of norms or beliefs. The concentration of crime in particular geographic areas results when there are insufficient ties among local residents to affect informal social control in the area. Impacted neighborhoods are often described as socially isolated, lacking social ties to institutions of power that provide the investment and services needed in a healthy community. The history of the formation and activities of street gangs is a clear example of how understanding the ties among individuals, and between groups of these individuals, matter in our understanding these phenomena. Comprehending social ties among gangs and gang members and employment of social network analysis (SNA) have become mainstays of local law enforcement efforts to address the issue of gang violence. Much of the early criminological work that implicated social networks but did not explicitly acknowledge a network by name, or did not employ SNA on formal network data, did so because collecting such data is difficult at best and sometimes impossible. Though criminology has been a “late adopter” of SNA, the field is making great strides in this area. The National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health (Add Health) research program has provided a rich set of network data to explore issues of peer influence. Researchers are using carefully collected social network data at the individual and organizational level to better understand the ability of communities to self-regulate delinquency and crime in an area. Arrest data and field identification stops are being used to generate large networks in an effort to understand how one’s position in a larger social structure might be related to an actor’s involvement in future offending or victimization. As the field of criminology continues to adopt a network perspective in the study of crime, it is important to understand the development of social networks within the field. Critically examining the strengths and weaknesses of network data, especially in terms of the process by which data are generated, can lead to better applications of network analysis in the future.

Article

James A. Densley

This article examines the who, what, where, when, why, and how of gang joining. The question of what youth join when they join gangs speaks to the contested nature of gang definitions and types and the consequences of gang membership, specifically heightened levels of offending and victimization. The type of gang and the obligations of membership influence the joining process. Where youth join gangs, namely, the neighborhood and social context, also impacts individual opportunities and preferences for joining. When youth join gangs is considered in a developmental sense, to include both adolescent and adult onset, in order to account for continuity and change in individual levels of immersion or “embeddedness” in gangs across the life course. Who joins gangs provides a profile of gang membership grounded in the well-documented risk factors for gang membership, but limited by problems of prediction. Why youth join gangs speaks to the push and pull factors for membership, the appeal of gangs, and the selective incentives they offer. Still, motivations for gang membership cannot fully explain selection into gangs, nor can general theories of crime that do not necessarily fit with general knowledge of gangs. How youth join gangs, for example, is more complicated than initiation rites. The mechanisms underlying the selection process can be understood through the lens of signaling theory, with implications for practice.