Gangs have produced a culture of their own; surprisingly similar to many other groups in mainstream society. Religious, political, and special interest groups can all be compared to gangs and their ideology. Typically, groups are born through a shared idea or goal by similar individuals. Many ideas may be radical or may not follow the “norms” set by mainstream society. Conflicts between groups are neither rare nor uncommon because of the simple fact that not all ideas will be shared by everyone in society.
In history, the basis of many wars has been mainly caused by religious differences. A similar comparison can be made between gangs and the other members of society. Different groups in society have different ways of achieving a variety of set goals such as money or status. Gangs do not have the same means of achieving wealth, happiness, respect or social status as mainstream society does. These ideas of innovation are a result of gang members rejecting socially accepted means but accepting the ends or set goals.
Deviant behavior has developed in gangs because of their way of obtaining money and status. Mainstream society has set the example that a “successful” individual in life will conform to the idea that many years of education will lead to a career which will essentially provide a steady income. In theory, gangs resort to violence and criminal activity because of their rejection to socially accepted, mainstream goals. For example, as the unemployment rate increases, research has found that property crime increases as well.
Gang members, as mentioned by Bobrowski’s studies, contribute mostly to Part II offenses such as property crime. In addition, Reiner mention’s that one of the three realities of life that drive gang crime is unemployment. With this evidence we can conclude that there is a positive correlation between gang crime and mainstream issues like unemployment rates. In conclusion, we can see how gangs are seen as a problem in society because of their lack of conformity to social norms. The prevalence of gangs Gangs have played a significant role in the criminal justice system and society overall.
These groups overwhelm in numbers, according to the United States Department of Justice there are an estimated 800,000 members in over 24,500 gangs spread out over 3,300 jurisdictions. While most gang crimes occur on the streets, a 2006 survey conducted by the “National Gang Crime Research Center,” out of 212 U. S. schools, 25% of American schools reported a gang shooting near their school in the past year alone. In a more broad sense, gang activity was reported in more than half of state and local law enforcement’s jurisdiction. Most, if not all, gangs have been born in or around a big city like Los Angeles, California.
These gangs root from these major cities but, often they “franchise” or branch out to increase in numbers. The relevance of theoretical explanations of gang behavior There are a myriad of theories that have been created to attempt to explain human deviant behavior related to gangs specifically. These theories are categorized according to their discipline; biological, sociological, psychological. Generally speaking, there are a number of theories used when analyzing criminal and deviant behavior such as: labeling, deterrence, anomie, strain, social learning and self-control theories.
There are also classifications or levels of theories such as: systems, social and individual level theories. Criminal theorist and researchers join forces in an inductive process, in which they interpret quantitative data, make empirical generalizations then finally produce a theory, leading to a factual-based hypothesis. The emergence of criminal theories is extremely important, especially when attempting to explain gang crime. Given these assumptions, we can scrutinize theories carefully and develop policy implications to improve the criminal justice system.
Different theories explain the wide variety of factors that contribute to deviant behavior within a gang. For example, the “labeling theory assumes that formal labeling of offenders motivates them to take on more serious criminal careers” (Criminological Theories 158). In addition, some theories such as strain theory explain how social “strain” or stress is experienced by an individual when they accept society goals but, experience blockages while attaining those goals. A theoretical explanation of gangs and gang crime
Closely observing the strain and anomie theory we can see that it explains how gangs create their own socially disapproved means to obtain the goals that are promoted by mainstream society. Strain and anomie theories are complementary even though, strain theory is in the individual level and anomie theory is in a social level theory. Strain such as unemployment rates, housing availability, economic instability, and lack of educational opportunity enhance gang behavior in one way or another.
Robert Merton explains 5 goals of adaptation to strain and these are conformity, innovation, ritualism, retreatism and rebellion. When analyzing gangs we classify them as innovators. They seek the approved goals society has publicized, yet they create a new way or new means to obtain that goal. Mainstream society and law abiding citizens accept the means they are given to obtain the ends that are promoted; this is considered conformity.
Essentially anomie/strain theories, as stated in Criminological Theories, “perceive blocked goals as producing deviance-inducing strain. Gang members are typically lower-class members of society and as result, there is a lack of resources available. This strain will cause gang members to become deviant separating them furthermore from the middle and upper classes. Separation and peer rejection are other elements in strain theory even though there has been weak correlation between these deviant behavior and peer rejection. In addition, a big component evaluated in strain theory is the perspective an individual has towards the stressful event.
The event must be seen as unjust and high in magnitude in order for the individual to act upon the stressful event in a deviant matter. For example, if an individual loses a close relative due to a gang related murder; the strain will be of greater impact than if the individual experienced frustration in school. In this case there is great probability that the individual will resort to gang violence. A review of the research on the theory’s viability Research supports general strain theory and prevention programs involving family therapy strengthen Merton and Durkheim’s theoretical contributions.
Delinquent gangs continue to be concentrated in lower class and minority neighborhoods and empirical research has been consistently finding positive correlations between gender, social class and deviant behavior. These variables are important to analyze when researching gang crimes because they are unarguably causes of strain to individuals. Members of lower socioeconomic class will almost always innovate new, usually illegitimate, means to achieve the goals set by society and data gathered throughout the years has proven this statement.
From Durkeim to Merton and, most recently Cohen, and Cloward and Ohlin, have all improved upon strain theory with research data and facts. Conclusion and recommendations I personally believe that the strain/anomie theory has very strong points, even though; I see no concrete separation between strain and anomie. Many argue these as two separate theories but, I see one large, information-packed theory. It can be overwhelming analyzing so much possible explanation for gang behavior and strain/anomie theory adds on to the bombardment of possible justifications.
Fundamentally speaking, strain/anomie theory explains the different paths individuals take and what stressors affect them along the way. Many stressors affect individuals in a different way. Not all minorities and lower class members will deny legitimate means to obtain certain goals such as, not all gang members are searching for the same goal law-abiding citizens are. I believe policy implications arising from strain/anomie theory are more closely related to other theories like social bond theory and self-control.