Gang Prevention Project
How to Combat Teenagers in Gangs
The gang problem is a topical question of modern day. Gang violence has become more wide-spread since the mid-20th century throughout the country. Criminal gang activity is perilous not only for the adult population of the country but especially for the young generation. Teenagers in gangs are a real problem of our society. The proper prevention work in this area is a significant and profitable issue for personal and community well-being. Dysfunction and maladaptation among teenagers are the results of a conflict with their surroundings (Nelson & Prilleltensky). Additionally, “effective support systems are necessary to address specific social, emotional, and psychological needs and challenges faced by adolescents” (Wyrick).
Description of a Program
This project is a prevention program for teenagers with a tendency to join a gang. It includes manifold procedures for students and their families which help to understand the hazard of gangs and illegal activity. An observation of adolescents, creating a pleasant atmosphere in the school and a healthy lifestyle are the main goals of the proposed project.
Theoretical and Empirical Foundations
There are many different definitions of the concept. By and large, gang is a relatively unified group of people which is usually assembled on the street and see themselves as a discernible group, which differs from others (Hallsworth & Young).
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First and foremost, gang is a small social group which has the following features:
- Number of participants: three or more;
- Immutable and clear-cut structural organization;
- Unique name and symbols which distinguish them from other groups and gangs; understanding of their originality and peculiarity;
- Acceptance as a gang of both gang members and people around;
- The inflated level of illegal and criminal activity (Howell).
It is known that gang is frequently connected with illegal and criminal activity. The gang is an organized criminal group which has its own rules and principles. In psychological terms, the criminal gang is highly organized and resistant, with a rigid discipline. Members of such gangs usually demonstrate uniqueness and supremacy of the environment, audacity, and impunity, extreme cynicism, cruelty to victims and renegades.
Speaking about the gang, it is not difficult to descry that there is big variety in group members who are included in gangs. According to data from National Gang Center, 50 percent of all people who are members of the gangs are Hispanic/Latino, 32 percent are African-American/black, and 11 percent are Caucasian/white. It is not surprising because ethnicity is one of the reasons for one’s acceptance to gangs. People, who come from different countries of the world, tend to come together and cooperate. Part of people can organize their life in a legal way, but there are some immigrants who cannot settle down and find a place for themselves. Thus, they choose another way and start promoting a very discrepant philosophy. Gang supersedes from their family and people who can support them. Vigil said that “often, they seek a place where they are not marginalized—and find it in the streets.”
Contemplation over the peculiarities of gangs helps to understand clearly and deeply how to combat with the gang problem among teenagers. Thus, the functioning of a gang is a complex multidisciplinary question. It is scrutinized by different sciences especially psychology, criminology, and sociology. Based on research in the framework of these sciences, it can be possible to make a decision about the hallmarks of the gang’s formation. The main condition which actually leads to joining a gang is a fact that a teenager cannot become a member of socializing institutions, especially within a family and at school. These small social groups just do not take it and a teenager does not get a chance to prove them the way he/she wants.
A large number of gangs crop up from “difficult schools’. There are some groups of very rebellious and unruly pupils in every school. In this case, such company does most disorders and violent acts at school (Debarbieux & Baya). They think that in such way they aggrandize their social status and become steeper in the eyes of others. One more reason for the formation of a gang can be a revolt. Adolescence is the age of keen feelings, maximalism, and incompliance. So, in this case, teenagers unite in gangs to achieve their goals which show their independence and ability to be adults. The only thing is that unfortunately they do it using not always good and legal methods.
There are different factors for joining a gang among teenagers. It is accepted that teenagers want to be a member of a gang, first of all, for protection. For example, students who are not well aside in school can affiliate with a gang to feel safer. Even if this teenager is not strong and brave enough the gang will teach him to survive and live on the street. Besides, membership in a gang provides a person with respect which is highly important and necessary for such adolescents. Thus, respect is the second reason for joining a gang.
Another motivation in this process is money. Everyone knows about the specific activity of gangs. They function on streets, and it determines the model of their major patterns of behavior. Most of the gangs are tightly connected with illegal and criminal activity. Robbery of collectors, storage of money and valuables, commercial shops, warehouses, housing wealthy owners are examples of activity that is characteristic of gangs. Their attacks involve murder, causing bodily harm and torture. To cover up the crimes they use counterfeit documents, the form of the police, security services, etc. There are specialized gangs which fulfill some orders from other people for a fee. Evidently, such orders are of a criminal nature. Thus, membership in a gang is a way to earn some money. There are other factors and reasons of joining a gang such as fun and an example of a friend who used to be in the gang.
Importance of the Topic
The gang problem is a wide-spread and important question for the whole country. According to Howell, “whereas in the 1970s, only 19 states reported youth gang problems, before the turn of the 21st century, all 50 states and the District of Columbia had acknowledged gang activity”. Since 2008, gang problems have aggravated throughout all segments of the U.S. population. The greatest percentage of problems with gangs is characteristic of the suburban counties (22 percent). The second place is occupied by rural counties with 16 percent, while the third and fourth places are attributed to smaller cities with ? percent and larger cities with 13 percent respectively (Egley, Howell, & Moore).
The results of statistical research, in particular, the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth where 9.000 adolescents were interviewed, showed that 8 percent of the teenagers had belonged to a gang between the ages of 12 and 17 (Snyder & Sickmund). There are many other surveys which demonstrate similar data. Thus, it is clear how critical this problem is nowadays. Teens ruin their life when they join a gang. They change a pattern of behavior, take criminal values and live by the law of a gang. When gang is exposed by police, they go to prison. That is why this issue is significant for the population. Research of the features of joining a gang and psychological peculiarities of its members can help to decrease the level of criminality and provide a healthy atmosphere in schools.
Potential Significance of the Project
It is a vexing fact, but a specific gang activity is a huge problem for our society. There are many teenagers who can really express themselves and achieve good results in their life, but at this age, they decide to join a gang for different reasons and ruin their lives. Gang members are characterized by deviant behavior. They show a low level of school performance and do not participate in extracurricular activities. Consequently, it reduces the level of success and image of the whole school in general. Besides, gang members disseminate the tendency of violence and set a bad example for other students, especially for younger students. Thus, this project may provide a scheme of development for teenagers. Interesting lectures, presentations, meetings, practical training courses, as well as professional orientation work are useful for personal well-being of both students and their families along with project organizers. These activities have to impact the entire learning process and functioning of the school, and this means that it is significant for the well-being of all parties.
Review of Relevant Literature
Besides the factors which are listed above, there are a group of risk factors. The presence of such aspects in the teenager’s lives can push them towards joining a gang, and it increases the possibility of their involvement in criminal activity. Review of literature gives an opportunity to divide all of the factors into five domains: individual, family, school, peer group, and community (Howell & Egley).
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First of all, the group of risk comprises of teenagers who have antisocial behavior. As a rule, they are characterized by early delinquent acts, high level of aggression, drug and alcohol abuse, early dating and sexual activity (Howell). Using a weapon is one of the distinguishing features of a professional gang. Thus, if adolescents can easily and without hesitation attack someone especially with a weapon, it is one of the main predictors that signal the risk of joining a gang.
Bad habits and failure to comply with a healthy way of life can also result in joining a gang, which especially refers to alcohol and drug use (Huizinga & Lovegrov). Besides, mental health problems and some psychological afflictions can be predictors of becoming a member of a gang. The list of factors includes conduct disorders, externalizing behaviors, hyperactivity, and depression (Howell & Egley). Different events which happened in childhood and had a negative influence on teen’s psychological state have a big influence on his/her further behavior and even the lifestyle. Failing a course at school can also bring about bad deeds. By the way, it is proved that academic success is directly related to delinquency and the relation is a very strong. For example, poor school performance on math tests predicts male gang membership (Thornberry & Krohn). It is one of the main factors from the second group connected with the school.
The family is an important institution in everybody’s life. It is the first place where child emerges, grows up and gets educated. Thus, it means that family has a really powerful influence on the behavior of adolescences. A really strong and good family will not give a chance to the teenager to abandon them. A positive nurture is a guarantee of a great future for a child. Thus, single-parent household, multiple family transitions, caretaker changes and other weaknesses in family structure, including poverty and problems in the financial sphere are some of the predictors of joining a gang. It is Obvious that if parents or other relatives are connected with criminal activity, have been in prison or if they are current members of the gang, this can be a strong reason for a child to develop family business and repeat the fate of parents.
The impact of family, peers and school is enormous, but yet there is a community which also plays a big role in the development of a teenager. A high level of criminal activity in the society and especially in surroundings, a prevalence of illegal behaviors and bad habits among neighborhood youth, bad relations with neighbors and other issues can be predictors for joining different gangs.
Thus, all of these factors in most cases do not affect a person separately. As a rule, members of gangs have a composition of different circumstances which combine, overlap and act like a cohesive system. However, if a teenager is under the influence of some of these risk factors, he or she will not necessarily become a gangster, but there is a big chance to ruin his or her life by joining a gang and engage in an illegal activity. Despite this, prevention and intervention work is an important practice for different institutions which deal with teenagers.
Purpose of the Project
The project which is presented in the study is a prevention program for all teenagers and especially for those who are in the high-risk group. The main purpose of this course is to monitor and enucleate students who have a tendency towards joining a gang and stave off such behavior which is true for the members of gangs. It is repeatedly proved that prevention work in many cases is more effective and useful than dealing with consequences. If a school, families, and other community structures in which teenagers spend a lot of time give many opportunities for the development of one’s personality, a level of problems with criminal activity would decrease.
Proposed Context for the Project
There are two levels of work with risk teenager groups. Therefore, it is proposed to divide the process into two parts and two directions of intervention which are connected with the work with teenagers and family. On the first level, the main context of work is to monitor and trace individual state of every student in school. It includes psychodiagnostic labor by means of psychodiagnostic techniques, psychological tests, and other methods which allow observing students and making some conclusions about their psychological condition. It is just a monitoring work which helps to detect teenagers who can become members of a risk group.
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This level includes not only psychological observation but also other prevention activities for all students in school. It is the second step of intervention among adolescents in gangs. It will include training courses for the elaboration of different kinds of skills, presentation and projects about gang’s activity and its consequences, and others.
All of these ideas are relevant, but the main goal for school workers must be an involvement of adolescents belonging to a risk group in social activity. It has been noticed that one of the reasons for the teens to join a gang is finding support and their own place in life. They can be victims in school. They cannot find a right way and have a chance to express themselves in school, so this makes students to join a gang and find support, respect, and status. Different opportunities in school activity and extracurricular work can be useful for such students. They just will not have enough time for illegal acts because of interesting and incredible practice in another sphere of life.
The second way of interventional work is a chore with families. Visits to parent’s homes, and communication between teachers and parents have to be regularly conducted. Besides, it is significant to involve parents in school learning activity. To prevent the entry into the gang there is a need to strengthen the relationship between parents and children. Common events where they are forced to perform as a uniform team can help them to reach an understanding with each other.
Proposed Participants in the Project
The main group of participants in the project is people for whom all these activities are created. Of course, it is teenagers and their families. There is a big group of organizers of this process as well. It includes school teams, police, psychologists and social workers, and maybe even prisoners who committed crimes as gang members. In terms of the prevention work when information is collected and monitored, the main role is of psychologists and social workers who are members of school staff. They all have to do their usual work such as psychodiagnostic surveys, interpretation of the results, counseling sessions with students who need it, etc.
School teachers are useful for this program as lecturers and role models of good behavior; especially, if they work with high-risk groups. It is very difficult but really important to ensure the healthy atmosphere in school which facilitates the development of an interesting and exciting learning process. School might be a ‘quite’ place where students can feel themselves safe, indispensable, and reigning. Thus, teachers have to create such an atmosphere.
The psychologist’s tasks in this project are not only limited to the diagnostic procedure but also include the holding of training. It can be a school psychologist or a psychologist who was invited from other organizations, for example, some state organization, or even practitioner of one of the psychological fields. It is important to arouse a desire in students and create lessons or practical courses in such way that they would be interesting for teenagers. There are a lot of methods for doing it and every good specialist has to know them.
Police can also take part in this project to share information about the present situation in the society and its hazards. Police can conduct lessons about this problem, make presentations, and organize meetings with the members of gangs who are in prison. These showdowns have to be highly controlled because an opposite effect can be achieved.
Proposed Action and Research Methodology
As mentioned earlier, the first-ever action is a psychodiagnostic survey among students in school. It can involve not only teenagers but primary school students as well. There a lot of instruments for a psychological research but nowadays there is no single technique which helps to measure the risk of joining a gang. Thus, it will include work with personality characteristics that are distinctive for adolescents from gangs. For example, Buss-Durkey Inventory, which was developed by A. Bass and A. Durkey in 1957, is intended for the diagnosis of aggressive and hostile reactions. This questionnaire observes five type of aggressive behavior. It is known that a high level of aggression is a predictor of joining a gang.
Besides, Scott’s observation map can help examine possibilities of bad adaptations among students. The method includes a careful fixation of different behaviors indicating a bad adaptation of the child to school. A psychologist has to observe the teenager for a long time and fixate maladjusted behavior. One can cooperate with teachers and other staff members who work with adolescents and share their notices. These techniques help to evolve a character of maladjustment and its level.
Various family activities should be regularly arranged at school. These can be different fairs, sports competitions, grades competitions, etc. The main idea is that these events are to rally a family and give them a chance to spend time together. Such activities help members of a family work as a team. A philosophy of a team is that each member is obliged to support and appreciate each other.
Lectures and presentations as instruments of propaganda of a healthy way of life are one of the activities that are included in this project. It can be carried out in every school, but under this program, it can change and acquire a new form. Teachers can engage the teens in preparing lessons and come up with new ideas and ways to disseminate this information. There are different competitions between students which imply gifts for participation in such activities.
The main purpose of training courses is the development of emotional control skills, volitional activity skills, self-management skills, and others. It is a practical activity as a result of which a teenager gets to know and learns to work with other students. It is a difficult personality research which claims much effort and pain but training can be created in such way that it will be significant for people who take part in it.
Cooperation with police and meetings with members of gangs who are prisoners now can be useful for this project as a means of prevention. Informing about situations in the state and country regarding the problem of gangs is a very important part of the prevention work. During these presentations and communication with the police, teenagers may be interested in the capture of the gang, not in joining it. Thus, there is an element of proforientation works in this project.
Besides, police can assist with the evaluation. One of the criteria for evaluating the effectiveness of the program is reducing banditry in the city. Police will submit a report about the level of the disclosure of gangs and teenagers who commit other crimes.
The level of progress in school and academic success are also the criteria for evaluation. As mentioned earlier, if school achievements will be enhanced and there is no reason for a school community to wave aside teenagers, they would not choose the path of crime. Active life and good relationships with others are the most important components of successful life.
Legal, Ethical, Sociopolitical, and Economic Considerations
There are numerous issues limiting the implementation of the project. All theses and activities of the program have to adhere to the laws that act on the territory of a state where the program will be embedded. The activities of prevention must correspond with the main ethical principles of work such as confidentiality, voluntariness, etc. In relation to the elections, the country is divided into two opposite clocks. It can also affect the implementation of the prevention program. Besides, the project demands significant financial investments. Therefore, these issues can influence the effective progress of the program.
A clear description of structures, goals, and plan of the project is the main solution for these issues. A statute has to work it out by means of the consultations with lawyers. Compliance with the Code of Ethics for psychologists is an important condition for the implementation of this project. To solve financial issues there is a need to find sponsors and establish bonds with different organizations that want to invest in the development of the future generation.
Thus, this project is a prevention program for teenagers involved in gangs. The main purpose of the intervention is to monitor and enucleate students who have a tendency to joining a gang and stave off such behavior which is peculiar to the members of gangs. The program includes psychodiagnostic surveys, counseling work with adolescents and families, training sessions and cooperation with the police. This project may be helpful in reducing the number of teenagers joining gangs.