Youth Gangs and Community Intervention: Research, Practice, and Evidence

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9780231146845: Youth Gangs and Community Intervention: Research, Practice, and Evidence

Although a range of program and policy responses to youth gangs exist, most are largely based on suppression, implemented by the police or other criminal justice agencies. Less attention and fewer resources have been directed to prevention and intervention strategies that draw on the participation of community organizations, schools, and social service agencies in the neighborhoods in which gangs operate. Also underemphasized is the importance of integrating such approaches at the local level.

In this volume, leading researchers discuss effective intervention among youth gangs, focusing on the ideas behind, approaches to, and evidence about the effectiveness of community-based, youth gang interventions. Treating community as a crucial unit of analysis and action, these essays reorient our understanding of gangs and the measures undertaken to defeat them. They emphasize the importance of community, both as a context that shapes opportunity and as a resource that promotes positive youth engagement. Covering key themes and debates, this book explores the role of social capital and collective efficacy in informing youth gang intervention and evaluation, the importance of focusing on youth development within the context of community opportunities and pressures, and the possibilities of better linking research, policy, and practice when responding to youth gangs, among other critical issues.

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About the Author:

Robert J. Chaskin is an associate professor at The University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration and a research fellow at Chapin Hall. A sociologist by training, his research focuses primarily on community organization and the role of community and community-based efforts to improve the lives of children, youth, and families. He is the coauthor of Building Community Capacity.

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Acknowledgments

This book brings together papers on the theory behind, evidence for, and nature of community approaches to addressing the youth gang problem. The papers were written in honor of Irving A. Spergel, who spent a long and productive career developing scholarship and testing intervention approaches to address this problem. Spergel is a well-known gang and community intervention scholar who has had significant influence on the field during his long tenure. Having worked with gang youth while at the New York City Youth Board and having studied with Richard Cloward and Lloyd Ohlin at Columbia University in the 1950s, Spergel came to the University of Chicago in 1960 to join the faculty of the School of Social Service Administration. He was named the George Herbert Jones Professor in 1993, and in addition to an influential body of published scholarship, he is the principal architect of a comprehensive community-based model that has been adopted by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention as the Comprehensive Community-Wide Approach to Gang Prevention, Intervention, and Suppression. Over the course of his career, Spergel has played many roles -- youth worker, scholar, teacher, program designer, evaluator, mediator, activist. He embodies a particular orientation to scholarship in the world, and a particular drive to build knowledge that has a real and practical effect on critical social problems of the day.

The book is based on papers delivered at a Festschrift held at the University of Chicago in honor of Irving A. Spergel upon his retirement. The Festschrift itself was an effort to generate dialogue (in the spirit of Spergel ' s scholarship and engagement in the field) among a broad range of people involved in various ways with youth gangs, gang intervention, and community practice. The event provided an opportunity to raise, consider, and debate some of the key issues and important (and underexamined) points of contention among people oriented toward the problem from significantly different perspectives, including the police, city government, community leaders, faith-based institutions, schools, community youth workers, researchers, and, to some extent, youth themselves.

Many of the papers are based on presentations given at the Festschrift; others were written after this event to round out and enhance the coherence and completeness of the volume. Thanks go both to the contributing authors whose work is assembled here and to the other participants and organizers of the symposium and the production of this book, including James Burch, Roberto Caldero, Robert Fairbanks, Luis Gutierrez, Waldo Johnson, Malcolm Klein, Jeanne Marsh, Barbara McDonald, Charles Ramsey, Emilie Schrage, Bill Sites, Jamie Stanesa, Randolph Stone, Herman Warrior, Father Bruce Wellems, Celeste Wojtalewicz, Phelan Wyrick, Dan Zorich, and the many people who work with young people in communities in Chicago in a broad range of roles who participated actively in the discussions that the presentations generated, lending their perspective, wisdom, and understanding of challenges to the debate.

Introduction

Robert J. Chaskin

Gangs have a long history, with documentation dating from at least the Middle Ages in Europe and from colonial times in the United States (Haskins 1975; Hay et al. 1975; Pearson 1983). In the United States, youth gangs have burgeoned since the nineteenth century, along with the rapid urbanization and increase in immigrant populations in many American cities (Delaney 2006; Haskins 1975; Sanders 1970). They proliferated further, and evolved in different ways, during the latter half of the twentieth century, along with the increasing concentration of urban poverty shaped in part by migratory patterns, shifts in the structure of economic opportunity, and policies and practices (from redlining to the design and location of public housing) that fostered racial and economic segregation (Delaney 2006; Massey and Denton 1998; Wilson 1987). Over this time, our focus on gangs -- as a phenomenon in our communities, a subject of sociological investigation, a concern of law enforcement, and a social problem to be addressed -- has grown and changed. Youth gangs in the United States are a frequent topic in the news, whether with respect to occasional, sensational themes (e.g., the advent of a gang war, the emergence of "supergangs," the spread of gang activity to suburban and rural communities) or quotidian tragedy (e.g., another drive-by shooting). They are a fixture in the public imagination, shaping aspects of popular culture (for example, gangsta rap), and providing a theme for films ( Boyz n the Hood ) and video games ( The Warriors ). And they are an important focus of research, policy, and front-line intervention.

The gang as a topic of research emerged in the United States with the young discipline of sociology in the early part of the twentieth century, with the most notable early contribution being Frederick Thrasher's systematic investigation of street gangs in the city of Chicago, first published in 1927. This was followed by a number of important ethnographic explorations of the social structure of poor urban neighborhoods (Whyte 1943) as well as systematic efforts to map and explain patterns of delinquency and gang involvement (Shaw and McKay 1942). Research on gangs continued to grow beyond this, exploding with particular force in the late 1950s and 1960s, on the heels of a set of competing theories on the sources of delinquency directly applicable to the problem, and followed shortly by a public policy interest in gang intervention (Klein 1995). Youth gangs have remained a vibrant area of investigation to the present day, and research on gangs has covered, among other issues, mapping the scope and nature of the gang problem, shifts in the conditions that contribute to gang formation and activities, the nuances of gang structure and functioning, the dynamics of gang proliferation and gang crime, the globalization and institutionalization of gangs, and the impacts of gangs on individuals and communities (Hagedorn 2007; Jankowski 1991; Klein 1995; Klein et al. 2001; Klein and Maxson 2006; Short and Hughes 2006).

Along with research on gangs, a number of different kinds of interventions and policies have been developed to address juvenile delinquency, gang formation, and gang activities (particularly, in the current context, violence and drug trafficking) as social problems, from the launching of the Chicago Area Project on the heels of Shaw and McKay's work in the 1940s, to programs in the 1960s like Mobilization for Youth in New York City, informed by Cloward and Ohlin's (1960) differential opportunity theory, to a range of contemporary programs concentrating to varying degrees on prevention, intervention, or suppression, or a combination of these orientations (Klein and Maxson 2006). Such efforts have, over the years and at different periods of time, evidenced shifts in their major focus, from preventive and promotive efforts seeking to provide alternatives for youth involved in or at risk of gang involvement, to a greater emphasis on monitoring, suppression, and punishment of gang-involved youths, to more comprehensive approaches that seek to combine aspects of these different orientations. There have also been shifts in the extent to which such interventions dealt largely with individual and group behavior and intervention versus concentrating on more collective, community-based orientations.

Thus there is a rich history of, and a substantial literature on, various aspects of the phenomenon of youth gangs. Much of this literature seeks to build theory that explains or provides empirical evidence of the sources and determinants of delinquency; the influences that foster the emergence of gangs as social groupings; the attractions, incentives, and pressures that draw particular young people to become involved in gangs; the specific organization and behavior of particular gangs (their membership, structure, economy, activities); or the emergence of new dynamics in the proliferation of gangs, the nature of gang violence, and the effects of gang activities on young people and the communities in which they live. Some, though a good deal less, of this literature deals explicitly with intervention (Curry and Decker 2003; Klein 1971; Klein and Maxson 2006; Spergel 1966, 1995, along with a set of program-specific evaluations of particular interventions) -- on what works, what has failed, and what policy directions should be considered to more effectively address the conditions that shape gang formation and the detrimental effects of gang behavior. There is, however, much more ground to cover on this front -- on how to think about, implement, understand, and apply knowledge about the effects of gang prevention and intervention policy and practice.

The Volume

This volume contributes to filling that gap by bringing together current scholarship that explicitly targets the ideas behind, approaches to, and evidence for the relative effectiveness of community-based youth gang interventions. It is not meant to provide a comprehensive assessment of gang intervention approaches, and although critical attention is paid to policies and initiatives that rely, for example, on suppression strategies, the emphasis of the chapters that follow is more fundamentally about multifaceted, community-based approaches in which suppression is (or may be) one component.

The rationale for this focus on community-based interventions as responses to gangs and gang violence is straightforward: Although there now exists a range of different kinds of program and policy responses to youth gangs (Klein and Maxson 2006), most responses to the gang problem are based largely on suppression and implemented by criminal justice agencies (particularly the police). Less attention and fewer resources have been directed to prevention and local interventi...

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