Juvenile justice is an area of law often associated with the difficulty of adapting the justice system to the target population. Penalties for offenses committed by persons under the age of majority are discussed in the context of ethical standards and comparison with legal practices applied in criminal law concerning adults. One of the aspects of this topic is the problem of the formation of gangs as groups that exacerbate control over juvenile delinquency and worsen a criminal situation in a particular community. This work aims to determine the reasons why young people join gangs and the behavioral characteristics of adolescents involved in such groups.
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Reasons for Joining Gangs
The relationship between children and their parents is often complicated due to the isolation of adolescents and their desire to be heard and understood. In this regard, as Taylor and Fritsch state, one of the key reasons youths join gangs is the desire for unconditional acceptance, support, and attention (316). Surrounded by peers with similar interests and outlooks, adolescents feel protected, and this illusion of collective support explains teenagers’ desire to join such groups. Another reason is the influence of the authority of more psychologically stable adolescents. According to Walters, the cognitive sensitivity of some young people is not stable and robust, and individuals morally strong peers may become role models (1047). If adolescents demonstrate deviant behavior and look for like-minded people, gangs for them become communities in which they can hide their weaknesses and, at the same time, realize their interests and ambitions. Therefore, juvenile delinquency is often addressed through psychological analysis of gang members, which helps explain specific motives for being involved in such groups and serves as a method for assessing the reasons for uniting.
Behavioral Characteristics of Youths in Gangs
Crime propensity in adolescents is always viewed as a consequence but not a cause. Zhang et al. argue that teenagers’ “deviant behaviors are a reflection of unconventional subterranean values” (955). In other words, any teenager who joins a gang has individual motives and is driven by personal reasons. Zhang et al. also consider the characteristic manifestations of group communication in gangs, in particular, leadership and submission, and note that specific behavioral patterns reflect the psychological characteristics of group members (974). Teenagers with complexes and concerns unconsciously imitate stronger and more independent leaders, which allows speaking about the formation of a classical management hierarchy. Another feature is adolescents’ alienation from interacting with their parents. According to Walters, delinquent behavior is acute in teenagers when there is no mutual understanding between them and adults, and an adolescent seeks support from peers with similar interests and experiences unconsciously (1047). Thus, youth gang formation is a trend that may be explained in terms of the vulnerability and psychological challenges that the audience in question faces.
The reasons why youths join gangs and the specific behavioral characteristics of members of these groups are essential aspects of juvenile justice. Motives of adolescents are individual and may be associated with challenges in psychological development, the tension in interaction with adults, and the desire for support. The hierarchical principle of communication in gangs explains the personal characteristics of their members and differences in cognitive sensitivity. Social adaptation of teenagers prone to deviant behavior presupposes building relationships with parents and effective psychological assistance.
Taylor, Robert, and Eric Fritsch. Juvenile Justice: Policies, Programs, and Practices. 5th ed., McGraw-Hill Higher Education, 2019.
Walters, Glenn D. “Gang Influence: Mediating the Gang-Delinquency Relationship with Proactive Criminal Thinking.” Criminal Justice and Behavior, vol. 46, no. 7, 2019, pp. 1044-1062.
Zhang, Hongwei, et al. “Subculture, Gang Involvement, and Delinquency: A Study of Incarcerated Youth in China.” Justice Quarterly, vol. 34, no. 6, 2017, pp. 952-977.
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