A group of sociologists from the USA and Israel has published a new research paper, in which characteristics of Californian school gangs are analyzed. The authors understand their study as one of the first serious attempts to draw a realistic picture of the gang subculture in the “Golden State“. They emphasize that only “few studies focus on a comprehensive geographic analysis of gang presence in schools across an entire state.“
According to the dominant literature on youth gangs, the rate of gang membership should be very much influenced by contextual factors. For instance, the proportion of students belonging to gangs should be high in urbanized and low in rural areas. In order to test such predictions, Joey Nuñez Estrada and his colleagues has investigated “what are the prevalence rates of gang membership in different grades and schools across counties and regions in California?“
The researchers analyzed the data from state-wide survey collected in the 2005-2006 and 2006-2007 academic years. The scientists reported that the sample consisted of approximately 600,000 students and represented almost all counties of the state. Students from the 5th, 7th, 9th and 11th grades were asked about their demographic characteristics and health-related behaviors. The respondents were also requested to indicate, whether they consider themselves as members of the gang. According to the scholars, “self-identification as a gang member is considered by some as the most reliable and accurate method to determine prevalence rates, because arrest data only captures the small proportion of gang members who were caught violating the law.“
Descriptive statistics show that almost one tenth of the teenagers think that they are gang members. Surprisingly, belonging to the gangs is evenly distributed over all geographical regions. The scientists claim that in every geographic region across the state of California, 8% – 10% of the students claim that they are gang members. This result is of great importance, as it cast doubts on the prevalent position that criminal groups tend to emerge in metropolitan areas. Nonetheless, another significant finding confirms previous research. The study reveals that the highest proportion of gang members in the seventh grade. Percentage of the students involved in such activities declines in higher grades. “This finding is consistent with what the gang literature and theory suggest in terms of the common vulnerability age range (roughly 13-15 years old) for joining a street youth gang,“ the researchers say.
Article: Estrada J. N., Tamika D. G., Astor R. A., Benbenishty R., A Statewide Study of Gang Membership in California Secondary Schools, Youth Society, 1‒17, published online 3 April 2014, DOI: 10.1177/0044118X14528957. Source link.