On SAGE Insight: Gangs in School: Exploring the Experiences of Gang-Involved Youth


From Youth Violence and Juvenile Justice
Published in Association with Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences

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Concern regarding the presence of gangs and gang activity in America’s schools is not a new phenomenon. Reports of the existence of gangs in urban schools (including Philadelphia, Chicago, and Los Angeles) began appearing in the 1970s and 1980s). Official data, however, indicate that the prevalence of gangs in schools has been decreasing since the 1990s. According to the School Crime Supplement of the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS), in 2013, about 12% of students in the United States reported that gangs were present at their school, down from the 1995 estimate of 28%. These results mirror research on school-based victimization and delinquency, in general, noting a steady decline since the 1990s.

This study explores three questions: (1) What are the criteria that current or formerly gang-involved youth use to identify the presence of gangs in school? (2) Do gang activities produce incivilities and victimizations within the school context? and (3) What is the impact of a gang presence on youth in the school, specifically with respect to the presence or absence of fear? The study examines the influence of gangs in schools through qualitative analysis of 180 in-depth semistructured interviews.

The mechanisms employed by youth in the sample to determine the presence of gangs in their schools is consistent with the idea that schools are simply extensions of the street for gang youth. In order to build status and respect, gang youth must make their status known to those around them. Evidence of these displays, such as visual identifiers, was commonly used to identify a gang presence among the full sample of youth (42%). The use of visual cues and personal knowledge to identify gang youth as well as incivilities associated with gang youth such as graffiti, class disruptions, and loitering in the hallways can serve as a signal of fear and other emotions among students. It is possible that youth are basing their perceptions of what constitutes a gang member on media representations including documentary-style programming such as Gangland.

Abstract

This study explores three questions: (1) What are the criteria that current or formerly gang-involved youth use to identify the presence of gangs in school? (2) Do gang activities produce incivilities and victimizations within the school context? and (3) What is the impact of a gang presence on youth in the school, specifically with respect to the presence or absence of fear? We examine the influence of gangs in schools through qualitative analysis of 180 in-depth semistructured interviews. The sample includes youth with varying levels of gang involvement who attended schools across the United States. Youth relied on personal knowledge and visual cues to identify gangs in their school. Despite the occurrence of vicarious victimizations and incivilities at the hands of gang youth, respondents indicated that gangs did not impact their school life. These youth frequently used normalization and delimitation processes to deal with gangs in their school.

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Article details

Gangs in School: Exploring the Experiences of Gang-Involved Youth
Dena C. Carson, Finn-Aage Esbensen
First Published November 7, 2017 Research Article
DOI: 10.1177/1541204017739678Youth
Violence and Juvenile Justice


     
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