Juvenile gangs

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History and characteristics of juvenile gangs

Gangs and crimes have always been present throughout the human history. However, the history of rise and appearance of the juvenile gangs in the United States dates back to around the year 1783, the period following the end of the American Revolution (Howell, 1998). The rise of the juvenile gangs during this period is attributed either to the evolution of the juvenile playgroups into organized crime syndicates, or as a collective reorganization of the juveniles in response to the transforming urban conditions in the U.S. at the time. Nevertheless, following the Mexican Revolution of 1813, the problems of juvenile gangs heightened significantly (Spergel, 1995). The heightening of the juvenile gang problems at this time came mostly due to the problems that the Mexican youths encountered in adjusting to the American way of life, challenging social and cultural environments, and the extreme levels of poverty they suffered following their migration to the Southwest U.S. (Howell, 1998).

Therefore, Gangs started to flourish slowly in American cities, and by the rise of the industrial era in the U.S., cities such as Chicago and Los Angeles had already recorded high rates of organized youth gangs that had operational economic systems of sustenance. The periods of rapid population shifts also accounted for the growth of the juvenile and youth gangs in the urban U.S. neighborhoods (Howell, 1998). The notable periods during which the U.S. juvenile gang problems and gang violence became rampant are noticeable under four distinct periods.  The juvenile gang activities grew and hit a peak in the late 1800s, intensified in the 1920s and then subsided to resurface again in the 1960s and peak again in the 1990s (Howell, 1998). However, it is during the period spanning the 1970s, 1980s and the 1990s, when the juvenile gangs became extremely violent and fatal, mostly due to the ease of access of lethal weapons.

The major characteristic defining the juvenile throughout their history include the use and sell of drugs, through street drug sales and mid-level drug distributions, with Black and Hispanic juveniles forming the bulk of the juvenile gang drug sale memberships (Wilson, 1994). Gang violence and gang homicides are other characteristics associated with the juvenile gangs, mostly emanating from tough competition for the drug markets as well as traditional inter-gang turf wars (Spergel, 1995). Further, the juvenile gangs are most often found to be connected to other adult criminal organizations, with the gang structure consisting of the different levels of membership and leadership, such as the core gang leaders, the regulars, fringe or peripheral members and the wannabes (Wilson, 1994).

Institutional and community responses to eliminate gang crimes

The institutional and community responses to gang crimes have been varied over the years. The extent of the societal harm and danger caused by the gangs became profound in the U.S. between the 1960s and 1990s, resulting in the creation of institutional frameworks that largely focused on law enforcement and incarcerations (Akerlof & Yellen, 2016). During the three decades spanning 1960-1990, gang crimes increased, resulting in the sharp rise of crimes in the society such as murders and aggravated assault. The community responses to eliminating crimes has also become core, with community policing and the cooperation between the law enforcement agencies and the community networks becoming increasingly prevalent (Spergel, 1995).

The other increased responses to eliminating gang crimes by both the institutional and community frameworks include the heightened monitoring efforts of the law enforcement agencies and the law enforcement-to-community partnerships and sponsored probation and rehabilitation programs (Akerlof & Yellen, 2016).

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  1. Akerlof, G. & Yellen, J. L. (2016). Gang Behavior, Law Enforcement, and Community Values. Washington, DC: THE BROOKINGS INSTITUTION.
  2. Howell, J. (1998).Youth Gangs: An Overview. Juvenile Justice Bulletin, 1-20.
  3. Spergel, I. A. (1995). The Youth Gang Problem: A Community Approach. New York:Oxford University Press.
  4. Wilson, J. (1994). Gang Suppression and Intervention: Problem and Response Research Summary. Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.
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