Youths and Gangs in School

The correlation between youths and crime is well documented in the available literatures.  Research shows that a huge number who regularly get involved in criminal activities are youths. According to Home Office (2011), Home Office commits approximately £18m of the entire funding solely to curb young individuals from engaging in criminal activities.   Such statistics clearly demonstrates the magnitude of the problem caused by youth gangs justifying the need to integrate mechanisms to adequately address the issue.

There is no universally accepted definition for gangs considering the many definitions that have been advanced by scholars. Due to lack of universality of gang definition, there have been little consensus concerning what should constitute a gang and the precise definition of a gang member.  Esbensen et al (2001) asserted that experts have reported faults with almost all definitions of a gang.  Thrasher (1963, p, 40) boasts for being the first person to provide a comprehensive definition for a gang. He defined it as an interstitial group initially formed spontaneously and eventually integrated through conflict.

Thrasher characterised gang with certain features, including milling, meeting face-to-face, conflict, movement through spaces as a unit, and planning.   Nonetheless, criminal activities vital to many researchers understanding of gangs was virtually omitted from Thrasher’s definition. Thrasher had failed to integrate elements, including law violating behaviour and delinquent as a criterion for gang. Despite Schools being some of the most common socialization places for the youth across the world, they are increasingly becoming vulnerable to incidences and effects of youth gangs, especially in the United States.

Background

Schools are some of the most common socialization places for the youth across the world. In this respect, schools are vulnerable to incidences and effects of youth gangs, especially in the United States. Statistics indicate that about 24% of all public-school students report the presence of youth gangs in their individual schools (Smith, 2011). Recent surveys reveal that more than 45% of high school students acknowledge the existence of active youth gangs in their campuses. Empirical studies also demonstrate that group operations are more pervasive in urban schools than suburban schools (Mayer & Furlong, 2010). However, gang operations in suburban schools have been growing at an alarming pace over the recent years. It is disturbing to note that scholars, education administrators, and security agencies have underestimated the implication of these statistics. Arguably, these stakeholders have shown little seriously about young gangs due to lack of well-defined criteria for assessing the elements of a youth gang. The reluctance to notice the prevalence of gang operations in schools have been attributed to the fear of public perception and politicization of the issue.

The presence of youth gangs in communities poses serious problems for school going children. Reports show that schools form suitable grounds for recruitment, intimidation, and boasting (Smith, 2011; Howel, 2007). Concurring with this debate, Mayer, and Furlong (2010) added that the idea of gang activity creates an environment of anxiety and incompliance. Fear and incompliance interferes with classroom order and reduces the academic performance of non-gang students. Undoubtedly, the existence of youth gangs in schools disrupts the learning environment, inculcates fear among students and educators, and accounts for increased violence in schools. Research shows that young gang activity is positively associated with the increasing episodes of bullying, violence, and intimidation in schools (O’Donnell, Egley & Howell, 2009). Smith (2011) also reported a strong correlation between the existence of gangs and the availability of guns and drugs in schools. Cases of students having weapons, as well as, students’ reports of availability of illicit drugs are more rampant in schools where youth gangs are prevalent. Therefore, violent victimization rates are higher in schools with operational youth gangs than in schools without gangs.

It has been noted with great concern that young gangs are characterized by ever-changing structures, thereby surpassing the stereotypical perspectives on traditional gangs. People always believe that modern youth gangs operate within the confines of urban settings. Research shows, however, that the contemporary youth gangs are rapidly growing and spreading to suburban areas and villages (Egley, Howell, & Moore, 2010). The fact that young gangs are present in most of the urban high schools is a clear indication that schools are growingly being infiltrated by gang activities that are engineered in local communities. As mentioned earlier, the purpose of schools has extended beyond academic and co-curriculum development to include drug markets and recruiting grounds.

Moreover, schools where notifiable gang operations are not addressed often register higher victimization rates. The failure to address gang operations imply that the potential indicators of gang activity are not being recognized as expected.  In most cases, this failure leads to a compromise of the school security in the broad-spectrum. It is on record that teachers and school heads show little commitment to recognizing the prevalence of youth gangs in their schools due to fear of victimization. Studies have also found that students and police officers are more likely to report the existence of youth gangs in schools than both teachers and parents (NCES, 2010). These important facts support the need to explore the motives behind youth gang formation, awareness of key indicators, and risk factors linked to participation in the same. According to the National Center for Education Statistic (NCES, 2010), youth gang formation does not consider age, gender, or race.  Scholars claim that poverty and high costs of living explain the formation of a majority of youth gangs in schools (Estrada, Astor, Benbenishty, Gilreath, & De Pedro, 2011). Estrada, Gilreath, Astor and Benbenishty (2013) reported that all children are becoming growingly vulnerable to the attraction of local youth gangs and indoctrinated with gang practices. Anti-gang analysts have suggested that the aspiration for love, security, improved social status, and a feeling of empowerment always promote gang formation. Academic failure, alcohol and substance abuse are other motivations to join a gang. Estrada, Astor, Benbenishty, Gilreath, and De Pedro (2011) contributed to this issue arguing that the ineffective and discriminatory nature of the existing social systems, including families and schools account for the rise in youth gangs in schools.  Based on this argument, one can state without doubt that socio-economic predicaments are both predisposing factors and outcomes of the prevalence of youth gangs in the society.

Professionals from across various quotas have contended that there is a difficulty in addressing gang pervasiveness. The problem which emanates from identification has been compounded by the lack of identifiable traits. The availability of identifiable traits would make it rather easy to differentiate between gang-affiliated students and non-gang students. Although other recognizable characters should be analyzed, gang members commonly use a different language, mannerisms, and dressing codes. The use of hand gestures, certain color displays, and signs are typical of youth gangs. However, blame has been pegged on educators and school administrators for overlooking such actions. Teachers and administrators have no option when it comes to learning and acknowledging the key indicators of youth gangs in schools. More importantly, educators lack knowledge of the risk factors that drive the formation of youth gangs. Battin-Pearson, Guo, Hill, Abbott, Catalano, and Hawkins (1997) categorized the possible risk factors into the family, school, peer, community, and individual circumstances. Dysfunctional families bring disaffection in children, thereby providing a primary motivation to join a gang. When one is separated from the community, he or she may seek acceptance in peer groups. These peer groups would then make joining a gang more appealing to the socially isolated young person. Therefore, exposing children to various risks increases the probability that they may accede to forces of youth gangs.

Problem Statement

It is evident that the explosion of youth gangs and gang-related violence has continued to skyrocket since the late-1990s. Global records show that the United States harbors about 30,000 distinct youth gangs made up of not less than 800,000 members. It is believed that these figures may be higher because people have imperfect information on what constitutes a gang. Incarceration of gang members and complicated legal procedures are other justifications of the variations in the estimates. Per the most recent surveys, more reasonable estimates comprise of at least 20,000 respective gangs with over 1,000,000 associates. It is worth stating that the more these gangs spread throughout a country or region, the more devastating their implications on public schools and learners become. The severity of effects of gangs in the contemporary society has exceeded historical levels.  In other words, both the presence and activity of youth gangs in schools have raised concerns such as academic disruption, the decline in discipline among students, and increased cases of violence.

The primary problem is that in most cases, teachers and school administrators fail to identify in time and mitigate gang problems in schools sufficiently. However, analysts do not blame educators and administrators entirely for their reluctance to recognize the presence and effects of gangs in school environments. In that essence, the contribution of public and political perceptions to their reluctance cannot be overlooked. On the contrary, the absence of official gang training in the pre-service and in-service professional development activities.

Scholars have projected that when gang operations go unnoticed and unmitigated, such outcomes as increased gang activities, uncertain learning conditions, and ineffectiveness of campus security become more pervasive (Egley, Howell, & Moore, 2010). The underlying issue is not just the recognition of key indicators and risks factors but the ability and capacity to recognize them in such a manner that facilitates mitigation and eradication of gangs from schools and the local communities. The situation may worsen in the near future if appropriate recognition methods and interventional measures are not implemented as fast as necessary.

Solution to Gang Related Problems in School

Before addressing the possible solution to gang related problems, it is imperative to address some of the risk factors promoting gang violence in a school setting. Understanding the root cause of gang related violence is key to addressing the issue of youths and gangs in schools. Howell (2011) documented some of the factors likely to prom youth gangs in a school setting. These factors are classified into individual, family, and school related factors.  The individual risk factors include alcohol and drug abuse, antisocial behaviour, victimization, mental health problems, and negative life events. Howell (2011) contended that antisocial behaviour was one of the prim factors promoting youth and gang in schools.

Howell asserts that children whose antisocial behaviour progressively worsens are more likely to join various gang groups. Antisocial behaviour includes aggression, alcohol and drug use, early dating, and violence without a weapon. In adolescence, other forms of violence do emerge, including attacking someone with a weapon.   Therefore, antisocial behaviour is one of the prime causes of youth gang violence in a school setting. This implies that effort to address the issue of gang violence should be geared towards addressing the issue of antisocial behaviour in schools.

Another individual factor contributing to youth and gangs in school include alcohol and drug abuse.  Many students who are drug addicts are more likely to join gang groups (Huizinga & Lovegrove, 2009).  According to Howell (2011), alcohol and drug abuse are among the leading triggers of youth and gangs in schools. In fact, where drug involves marijuana, the probability of joining gang group is extremely high.  Besides alcohol abuse, mental health also constitutes problem compelling an individual to join gangs in school.

Despite little evidence on the role played by mental health problems in promoting gang violence, research shows that mental problems among young people escalates their chances of joining a gang group in a school setting. These mental health problems encompass externalising behaviours, conduct disorders, depression, and hyperactivity (Howell & Egley, 2005). The study conducted by Davis and Flannery (2001) highlighted that gang members in juvenile correctional facilities are regularly admitted with histories of sexual and physical abuse, psychiatric disturbances, substance abuse, cognitive deficits, and traumatic stress disorder among others.  Therefore, effort to provide robust solutions to addressing the issue of youths and gang in school should be geared towards addressing the above documented individual risk factors.

Howell (2011) cited family risk factors as being responsible for compelling an individual to join a gang group in a school setting.  Per Howell, parents play an incredible role in promoting positive child-development right from birth.  He pointed adversities, including multiple family transitions, single-parent household, financial stress, and poverty as potential risk factors, increasing the likelihood of one joining a criminal gang.  The aforementioned factors weaken effective parental supervision while disturbing proper development of stronger family bonds.

In ability for parents to exercise proper parental control has been proven beyond reasonable doubt to promote children involvement in gang in various school settings.   Additionally, parent’s history of gang involvement also plays an important role in the child’s criminal behaviour. Howell (2011) posits that where a family member got involved in criminal behaviour or gang, the probability of his or her children joining gang is very high.

School related factors have also been scrutinised to explore the role they play in promoting youth engagement in gang membership. However, it is interesting that study in this area have only been directed towards examining the role played by a student’s academic achievement in gang involvement (Gottfredson et al., 2005). The study conducted by Thornberry, Krohn, et al., (2003) found that poor school performance on mathematics subject predicted male gang involvement. Based on this study, it is apparent that poor school performance played a role in youth gang involvement in a school setting.

The community risk factors have also been cited as a risk factor for youth involvement in gang violence.  Pyrooz, Fox, and Decker (2010) opine that gangs always tend to cluster in economically disadvantaged and high-crime neighbourhoods. Where gangs cluster in each neighbourhood, the probability of youths joining gang group is extremely high. Some of the community related risk factors compelling youths to join gangs include widespread use of drugs and firearms, a huge number of people involved in illegal behaviours within the community, and increased alcohol and drug abuse.

Solutions

With respect to the rising rate of gang related violence, more so in a school setting, it is imperative to develop robust strategies to sufficiently address the issue of school youths joining gang groups.  There are many strategies that can be implemented to address the issue as will be discussed in this section.

Ineffective gun control strategies have been blamed to be responsible for the increased gang violence in a school setting. This implies that effort to reduce gang related violence should be geared towards implementing effective gun control policies to ensure that youths do not get access to guns. Research shows that drug abuse worsens juvenile violence in two different ways.  For instance, firearm is highly prevalent among drug addicts, something that increases the chances of possessing and illegally using arms to engage in violence. Therefore, effort to reduce drug-gun related violence should be geared towards addressing the issue of drugs in community.

To reduce an environment of fear and attain the highest reduction in number of youths carrying weapons, effort ought to be directed towards not only implementing effective gun control policies, but also conducting an operation to disarm the number of youths carrying the weapons.  Youth involvement and community support planning and implementation are key to making the disarmament process effective.

Community support programs geared towards promoting economic development is also a step in the right direction as far as solutions are concerned. In most cases, youths join gang groups because of poverty; they are unable to access adequate food. They are, therefore, forced to resort to gang violence as a strategy of achieving the end, which is using illegal methods to earn money.  Therefore, community efforts should involve integrating programs that promote economic growth and development within the community.

Besides the above, another effective strategy is studying students displaying antisocial behaviors. Based on this research, such students were more likely to join the school gang group. In this regard, they must be warned that any attempt to promote youth-gun would be dealt with accordingly.

In some cases, promoting economic growth and development may not be effective because youth crime has always been reported to be high even in cities with a robust history of economic development. In this case, teaching school going children on the need to avoid violence behavior and the consequences associated with participating in gang groups is likely to reduce the number of school youths considering joining gangs.

Scholars have suggested different strategies for mitigating the prevalence of different youth gang activities and gang-associated impacts on students. Among the most cited strategies include anti-gang education, anti-violence programs, school absenteeism and exclusion responses, positive pro-social behavior models, and inclusion. These strategies are useful in nurturing peaceful learning, coexistence, and social integration.

Anti-youth gang education is a promising way of discouraging children and young adults from acquiring youth gang membership. In some jurisdictions, gang resistance education and training programs have been integrated into the curriculum. The advocates of this program argue that it enables students to have perfect information concerning their respective schools and homesteads, thereby encouraging positive social behaviors. The mentioned program focuses primarily on emphasizing the negative effects of alcohol and drug abuse, while engaging the youth in community development programs. However, the implementation such a curriculum should be the responsibility of security officers because they are more familiar with conflict management, drugs, and criminal justice.

Research shows that students who have successfully undergone an education and training programs portray more pro-social behaviors than other students. On the same note, well-trained police officers play pivotal roles in not only preventing the formation of youth gangs, but also in enforcing law and order in the community. Therefore, police presence in schools can boost educators and administrator’s morale in the fight against youth gangs.

Anti-violence programs form another set of strategies for curbing the proliferation of gangs in learning institutions. This category of strategies consists of mentoring programs for young boys, anti-bullying campaigns, pro-diversity policies and practices, and selection of community liaison officers. Psychologists believe that anti-bullying programs such as reporting of bullying incidences make vulnerable students feel more secure and less likely to seek refuge in a gang. Per emotion experts, mentoring boys reduces violence against students having same sex relationships. Besides, racial-violence in schools can be reduced by creating and promoting race-free environments. As a matter of fact, schools are encouraged to preach cultural diversity and equality so that foreign students can gain a sense of belonging to a school community. In addition to the school community, liaison officers can also promote cultural diversity by ensuring that ethnic minority communities actively participate in youth education and well-being promotion.

Additionally, curriculum reforms, creation of incentives for attendance, allowing re-entry of excluded and disaffected students, and the use of restorative justice in disciplining students are the main ways of reducing cases of absenteeism and exclusion. Those who support curriculum change posit that learning should be more vocational and practical in the sense that evening hours and weekends are devoted to recreational and talent shows. Studies have established that most students find these sessions exciting and refreshing. Elsewhere, setting a class target with the reward of an excursion has been found to potentially increase school attendance. Students can also be prepared to re-enter regular schools by taking them to alternative schools such as rehabilitation centers. Most these alternative schools have provided community service training necessary for building self-esteem in young people. Fundamentally, there is a need to streamline the interaction between parents, educators, administrators, and security personnel. Effective communication in social systems harbors myriad of achieving restorative justice. Scholars have identified youth conferences as the most effective communication channel when it comes to impacting behavior change in young people.

Nevertheless, other educationists have viewed the role of mentorship in preventing gang activity from another lens. The contribution of both adult and peer mentors towards behavior change has been seamlessly commendable. Adult mentors comprise of designated and proficient individuals who offer guidance, counseling, and assistance to young groups. School administrators and peer leaders can be more productive in addressing problems affecting young people such as appropriate dressing, appropriate verbiage, and understanding.

Scholars have suggested different strategies for mitigating the prevalence of different youth gang activities and gang-associated impacts on students. Among the most cited strategies include anti-gang education, anti-violence programs, school absenteeism and exclusion responses, positive pro-social behavior models, and inclusion. These strategies are useful in nurturing peaceful learning, coexistence, and social integration.

Anti-youth gang education is a promising way of discouraging children and young adults from acquiring youth gang membership. In some jurisdictions, gang resistance education and training programs have been integrated into the curriculum. The advocates of this program argue that it enables students to have perfect information concerning their respective schools and homesteads, thereby encouraging positive social behaviors. The mentioned program focuses primarily on emphasizing the negative effects of alcohol and drug abuse, while engaging the youth in community development programs. However, the implementation such a curriculum should be the responsibility of security officers because they are more familiar with conflict management, drugs, and criminal justice.

Research shows that students who have successfully undergone an education and training programs portray more pro-social behaviors than other students. On the same note, well-trained police officers play pivotal roles in not only preventing the formation of youth gangs, but also in enforcing law and order in the community. Therefore, police presence in schools can boost educators and administrator’s morale in the fight against youth gangs.

Anti-violence programs form another set of strategies for curbing the proliferation of gangs in learning institutions. This category of strategies consists of mentoring programs for young boys, anti-bullying campaigns, pro-diversity policies and practices, and selection of community liaison officers. Psychologists believe that anti-bullying programs such as reporting of bullying incidences make vulnerable students feel more secure and less likely to seek refuge in a gang. According to emotion experts, mentoring boys reduces violence against students having same sex relationships. Besides, racial-violence in schools can be reduced by creating and promoting race-free environments. In fact, schools are encouraged to preach cultural diversity and equality so that foreign students can gain a sense of belonging to a school community. In addition to the school community, liaison officers can also promote cultural diversity by ensuring that ethnic minority communities actively participate in youth education and well-being promotion.

Additionally, curriculum reforms, creation of incentives for attendance, allowing re-entry of excluded and disaffected students, and the use of restorative justice in disciplining students are the main ways of reducing cases of absenteeism and exclusion. Those who support curriculum change posit that learning should be more vocational and practical in the sense that evening hours and weekends are devoted to recreational and talent shows. Studies have established that most students find these sessions exciting and refreshing. Elsewhere, setting a class target with the reward of an excursion has been found to potentially increase school attendance. Students can also be prepared to re-enter regular schools by taking them to alternative schools such as rehabilitation centers. Most of these alternative schools have provided community service training necessary for building self-esteem in young people. Fundamentally, there is a need to streamline the interaction between parents, educators, administrators, and security personnel. Effective communication in social systems harbors a myriad of achieving restorative justice. Scholars have identified youth conferences as the most effective communication channel when it comes to impacting behavior change in young people.

Nevertheless, other educationists have viewed the role of mentorship in preventing gang activity from another lens. The contribution of both adult and peer mentors towards behavior change has been seamlessly commendable. Adult mentors comprise of designated and proficient individuals who offer guidance, counseling, and assistance to young groups. School administrators and peer leaders can be more productive in addressing problems affecting young people such as appropriate dressing, appropriate verbiage, and understanding.

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