Understanding Processes of Crime and Desistance Among Gang Associated Delinquent Youths

Under what conditions do youth associated with gangs commit crimes, and under what conditions do they desist or decline in criminal activity?

Increases in both real and perceived gang activity have spurred policing strategies that impact the communities in which gangs operate. Recent research, including work by this investigator, suggests that as law enforcement efforts to suppress gang activity have increased, some collective youth behaviors have been confused with or “misrecognized” as gang-related crime. While the available literature has identified key factors influencing gang involvement among youth (including conflict with authority figures and detachment from parents and teachers), prior studies have not typically examined gang activity across multiple social settings, or distinguished between gang-related crime and other collective youth behaviors. The researcher will investigate how the quality of interactions between gang-associated youth and authority figures in multiple settings—including streets, community centers, and schools—relate to youth’s descriptions of identity and shifts in behavior toward or away from crime. The study includes 75 predominately black and Latino gang-associated youths ages 14–21 in Riviera, California, as well as their parents and 30 school personnel, police, and probation officers. The investigator plans to conduct in-depth ethnographic observations by “shadowing” 20 of the 75 youth. In addition, he will conduct and code interviews with participants centered on key themes and hold weekly focus group meetings with 8 to 10 participants at a local community center. Thirty adults in authority positions will also be interviewed about their perceptions of youth and strategies for engaging or disciplining gang-associated groups of youth.

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