why youth do crime and join gangs

Youth Gangs and Their Impact on Society

Youth gangs have evolved into violent social classes in society. They are now linked to an uptick in violent and sophisticated offenses, the majority of which are identified by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. According to an FBI survey, there are approximately 20,000 violent youth gangs with a membership of at least 1,000,000. Well-organized juvenile crime groups between the ages of 13 and 24 participate in illicit enterprises, increasing their chances of increasing moneymaking operations (Phillips, 2015). As a result of these research findings, there is a need to explore the reasons for the presence and flourishing of these juvenile street groups. The results from the quantitative data and findings regarding the causes and motivations behind boosting membership will help in coming up with short and long-term solutions to the problem before it spirals out of control.

Literature Review

In understanding the causes of youths joining the criminal gangs, various scholars who have presented their views and ideas should be evaluated. In the analysis of the common factors encouraging the rise of the criminal gangs. Decker, Melde & Pyrooz (2013) came up with two broad categories. The two scholars believed that the membership to the gangs could either be caused by pulls or pushes. The pulls consider the attractive nature of the gang as a result of the various opportunities and benefits that accrue. Attractiveness also entails the chances for excitement through drugs' sale which generate money. Pushes come from the economic, social and cultural forces that take adolescents in the direction of the criminal gangs. The presence of other gangs within a region also compels the youths to join a friendlier illegal group to feel part of the fashionable trend. Among the major causes of youths joining criminal gangs include unemployment, getting a sense of brotherhood and insulation from various forms of intimidation.


There is sufficient quantitative data from past researches that can be used to prove the role of unemployment in triggering the existence of criminal groups engaged in crime. Youths have been lacking satisfying jobs to enable them to progress and meet their needs. As a result of the financial inadequacy, they find themselves languishing in poverty and much willing to participate in gang activities. The money derived from these activities act as a substitute for formal employment. From a recent survey, the rate of unemployment was found to be improving, fluctuating between 6-10% (Poutvaara & Priks, 2011). This is, however, not a reason to be celebrating as a country as it is equally important to think about the people trapped in the less than 10% sector. Between the age of 18 and 29 years, the rate of unemployment is 15.8% higher than the general rate. The African Americans are said to be suffering most at a 23.8% unemployment rate, while the Hispanic come closer at a 16.6% unemployment rate (Laske, 2011). Even with the right education, it is not a guarantee that one will secure employment as the rate of unemployed graduates continues to increase at a steady rate of approximately 5-10% from the past ten years (Wilson & Petersilia, 2010). The high rate of unemployment among the youth is not a problem that is only confined to the United States. Other developed nations in the world are reported to witness the same problem. Japan seems to be doing well in securing jobs for the youth with an unemployment rate standing at 7% (Friman, 2001). However, the situation is worse in Greece after the previous economic meltdown that saw the rate escalate to 58% (Data from OECD) (Blanchflower, 2000). Youths in Greece are therefore more likely to engage in criminal activities because of the frustrations in the economic sector. Studies done on the effects of unemployment and its cost to young adults have revealed that the federal government loses approximately $5 billion in taxes for failing to utilize the youths' talents (Tanveer et al., 2012). Another study done on the impact of the losses on the youths has revealed that long-term unemployment makes the youths lose $25 billion every year for not being incorporated in the labor force (Ayres, 2013).

Fellowship and Brotherhood

Fellowship and brotherhood are another important reason as to why youths join gangs and carry out criminal activities. Most of the gangs act as an extended family to provide a sense of companionship that lacks in the home environment. Besides, the membership can come from older members of a family being members of a gang. Loyalty to the gang groups is often through love rather than coercion, with members regarding each other as sisters and brothers. The familial closeness acts as the best alternative to the low parental attachment at home. Brotherhood rules out the idea of poverty because even the wealthy take part in the crime, particularly members of dysfunctional families. Quantitative researches done on Africans, Hispanics, and Caucasians have made significant revelations of how fellowship and brotherhood affect the chances of joining a gang and committing criminal activities. Common gang groups among the Hispanic community include the La Eme, Netas, Texas Syndicate, and the Nuestra Familia. La Eme has been partnering with the Surenos to take control of the prisons and the activities behind bars. Research done by the government agency has revealed that the friendliness of the group has seen more than 300 members being officially initiated into the gang, with other 1000 associates assisting it to achieve its ends hoping that they will get incorporated (McNulty & Bellair, 2003). A similar trend is observed in African American gangs like the black guerilla family, the D.C Blacks, and the Conservative Vice Lords that operate in central Illinois. The Aryan Brotherhood and the Nazi Lowriders have also portrayed a similar trend in garnering support from oppressed members who want a sense of belonging.


Studies done on the high turnover rates in the criminal gangs have helped to explain the deep causes of motivation in seeking membership. Studies have shown that gangs have a high turnover rate of above 30% after members realize that the slogan "money, cars, women, and fame" is an exaggeration of reality (Decker et al., 2008). The study further established that criminal gangs have to recruit the same number of people as those exiting, a factor that causes forced recruitment not to be an option. Reports from law enforcement bodies were found to be inadequate and faulty because of indicating that the number of people joining gangs to be a third of what the research found out. The concept of intimidation can also be interpreted as threats from other gang members. To defeat them or gain respect, the youth prefers to join another rival group to counter their effects.


Summarily, all factors making the youth join criminal gangs fall either under the push or the pull category. Unemployment pushes the youth into crime as they look for activities that can supplement their small incomes to meet their needs. Fellowship and brotherhood act as pull factors as youths look for organized groups that can offer them the love lacking in their families. Intimidation acts as both a pull and push, with members either seeking groups to assist in revenge or being coerced to join the criminal gangs. Armed with this information, policymakers can thus come up with well-thought-out plans to offer long-term solutions to the problem of youths joining criminal gangs.

Relevant Theories

For unemployment, the emergence of criminal gangs can be explained using various theories like Hirschi's control theory. The theory is used to explain the causes of criminal gangs among the youths when the society's bond is too weak (Hirschi, 2004). The weak bond compels people to engage in unlawful acts after failing to develop the right attachments and aspirations with the majority of the population. More particularly, unemployment is said to weaken and destroy social bonds, hence triggering crime among the youths. Other theories to explain the effects of unemployment on the rate of joining criminal gangs include the anomic theory of deviance and the differential association theory. The former was championed by Braithwaite, who modernized the ideas of Merton, Parsons, and Emile Durkheim. The anomic theory proves that powerlessness and poverty encourage the rise in crimes (Sampson & Morenoff, 2006). The solution to the problem, as Braithwaite suggested, would be to redistribute power and wealth, a move to re-establish social order. The differential theory explains delinquency using bad associations in which the poor, unemployed people infect others, creating a culture of crime. To avoid this infectious habit, the government should come up with measures to reduce the rate of unemployment. Patterns in fellowship and brotherhood as factors encouraging the desire to be recruited by criminal gangs can best be described using the Social Bond and the Learning Theories. The former explains why there is a rise in the number of youth gangs as a result of the loopholes and the weaknesses in the existing social bonds (Spiegel, 2006). The learning theory explains the effects of the attitudes and the values learned from other members that are likely to lure a potential criminal into criminal activities (Akers, 2011). A profound understanding of the underlying tenets of these theories can help in explaining and coming up with long-term measures to curb the problem. The willingness of the youths in the outside community to assist the members in engaging in crime shows the level of determination that the youths have in being recruited.

Research Questions

Q1. What are the effects of unemployment on the chances of youths joining and engaging in crime? Q2. How do fellowship and brotherhood affect the recruitment of youths in gangs and their engagement in crime? Q3. In what ways does intimidation affect youth recruitment and engagement in criminal activities within gangs?


Akers, R. L. (2011). Social learning and social structure: A general theory of crime and deviance. Transaction Publishers.

Ayres, S. (2013). The high cost of youth unemployment. Washington: Center for American Progress.

Blanchflower, D. G. (2000). Self-employment in OECD countries. Labour economics, 7(5), 471-505.

Decker, S. H., Katz, C. M., & Webb, V. J. (2008). Understanding the black box of gang organization: Implications for involvement in violent crime, drug sales, and violent victimization. Crime & Delinquency, 54(1), 153-172.

Decker, S. H., Melde, C., & Pyrooz, D. C. (2013). What do we know about gangs and gang members and where do we go from here?. Justice Quarterly, 30(3), 369-402.

Friman, H. R. (2001). Informal economies, immigrant entrepreneurship and drug crime in Japan. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 27(2), 313-333. Hirschi, T. (2004). Self-control and crime.

Laske, M. T. (2011). Gang Involvement among African American, Latino, and White Youth: The Contextual Significance of Concentrated Neighborhood Disadvantage.

McNulty, T. L., & Bellair, P. E. (2003). Explaining racial and ethnic differences in serious adolescent violent behavior. Criminology, 41(3), 709-747.

Phillips, S. A. (2015). The Gang-Drug Nexus: Violence, FBI Safe Streets Task Force. In New Approaches to Drug Policies (pp. 121-136). Palgrave Macmillan UK.

Poutvaara, P., & Priks, M. (2011). Unemployment and gang crime: can prosperity backfire?. Economics of Governance, 12(3), 259-273.

Sampson, R. J., & Morenoff, J. D. (2006). Durable inequality. Poverty traps. Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey, USA, 176-203.

Spiegel, S. N. (2006). Criminology. Blackwell Publishing Ltd.

Tanveer Choudhry, M., Marelli, E., & Signorelli, M. (2012). Youth unemployment rate and impact of financial crises. International journal of manpower, 33(1), 76-95.

Wilson, J. Q., & Petersilia, J. (Eds.). (2010). Crime and public policy. Oxford University Press.

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