Organizational Feature as Facilitators for Youth Gang Member Offending

Phelan Wyrick, OJJDP

Longitudinal prospective studies of at risk youth find that offending is significantly elevated during youth gang membership. This facilitation effect is generally attributed to group level processes that influence individual behavior during membership. Although group processes in youth have received much attention from gang researchers, it remains unclear how organizational arrangements influence individual offending. The past two decades have seen much debate about the level of organization present in youth gangs. Most research suggests that youth gangs tend to be loosely affiliated groups with low levels of organization. However, there remains evidence of considerable variation in the presence of organizational features across youth gangs. In this study, multivariate techiques were used to examine the relationship between organizational features of youth gangs and individeual gang member offending patterns. Interview data from 140 gang members in Colorado and Florida were used to examine the following organizational features in relation to various forms of offending: the presence of gang leaders, codes of conduct, role differentiation, gang sets, initiation rituals, use of symbols, and regular meetings. Findings support a proposed framework for understanding group facilitation of gang member offending.

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Updated 05/20/2006