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Issue of Street Gangs and Youth Criminal Justice Systems

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Criminology
Wordcount: 1983 words Published: 18th May 2020

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The Street Gang Phenomenon

In today’s society there is a large number of juveniles involved in street gangs, and this is due to numerous reasons. According to Delaney almost two million juveniles were arrested in the United States during 2009, this is imparting due to how the system is setup with most people in our society generally believing that they shouldn’t be processed through the adult system. The point of this is to bring awareness in various areas where many problems expose themselves in this system through the legal issues juveniles experience, how minorities play a big part of street gangs and also the conviction rate of these said youths, what laws and other practices have been put in place to help curb this problem that is being faced.

Legal issues and other problems faced in the Criminal justice system by the youth

Street gangs have posed a significant threat to communities and the criminal justice system for decades. There is a vast majority of youths affiliated with street gangs therefore posing a problem of youth in the criminal justice system. There has been a big question on how juvenile offenders are viewed and how it should be reexamined. Due to a strain and a lack of resources, in communities that experience high rates of crime, safety agencies struggle to respond. The youths are now targeted because they are easy targets for gangs. Gangs are simply defined as a group of individuals that come together and commit illegal activities together, they usually have a unique name, group color or a gang sign that they can be identified by. Skipping school, failing to graduate, becoming a distraction in class and unemployment are just a few of the many negative consequences that come with youths being involved in a gang. Addressing gang affiliations will require assistance from law enforcement, school administrators and influential individuals in the community.

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Another major issue the criminal justice face while dealing with street gangs is the number of individuals that have issues with their mental health. Each year there are two million children and young adults that will pass through the juvenile justice system. Approximately 65 to 70 percent of these individuals have a diagnosable mental health need and a small percentage has severe emotional issues. Status Offenses is another problem that arises. These are crimes that are criminalized because the individual is under the age of 18. Truancy, running away, curfew violations and underage liquor law violations all fall under the category of status offenses. There have been 142,300 cases that have been petitioned in juvenile court and of these cases only 82,400 ended with young individuals being found guilty. In about 6,000 of the cases, young people were eventually placed out of their home into a facility much like prison because of their actions or the lack thereof.

Juvenile issues

One of the major issues that juveniles face and the administration has not spent the time to investigate this is the fact that so much of our youth are the fact of over incarceration which leaves the many thousands of juveniles being prosecuted in the adult court system year-round, the racial and ethnic disparities. Kalief Browder states that “In the U.S. on any given day, there are nearly 80,000 youth in a detention or correctional facility,” she wrote in testimony submitted ahead of the HOC’s Hearing on Criminal Justice. There are “20,000 [youths] in juvenile detention centers; 54,000 youth are in youth prisons or other out-of-home confinement; 4,200 youth are in adult jails; and 1,200 youth are in adult prisons.”. this then impacts the mental of our youth, being removed from the homes of loved ones and the communities in which they’re from, many are falling behind in school, and have been tried as adults , the rate at which those who are incarcerated being abused is on the rise, ranging from physical to sexual abuse, it has also been noted that the use “isolation and restraints.”

Minorities in Street Gangs

When talking about minorities this is a widely faced problem, not only in street gangs but through the juvenile and adult system, in both systems there is a huge gap between whites and other minorities, primarily Hispanics and African Americans, according to MacArthur Foundation, “youth of the color constitute approximately one-third of the adolescent population in the U.S. but two-thirds of incarcerated youth” this should be alarming to anyone who is researching this problem, this is due to various problems in the system stemming from jurisdictional issues, police practices and the crime rate in certain urban areas.

 Some of these common practices that are seen through happening in the justice system are racial profiling, some officers are targeting certain races and classes during their patrols, so if you fit the description or what they think is a gang member then you might find yourself being harassed by these officers, in the system itself to combat this problem or how they deal with minorities they have implemented a few laws, such as competency training for law enforcement, which requires cultural competency model training for all law enforce officers, secondly race neutral risk assessments” Requiring juvenile justice and probation staff to use “race-neutral” risk assessments instruments to eliminate racial and ethnic bias in detention screening.” And lastly Committees to address racial and ethnic disparities “Established committees or commissions to address and remedy overrepresentation of minorities in their juvenile justice systems.”. These are just a few of the laws which have been implemented so far in about 15 states to help our minorities that are affected by this.




Strategies for the future

 There has been some progress made with identifying several strategies and programs that will help reduce delinquency and promote social development, with such programs coming together this will impact our youth greatly, by saving lives that are being wasted by these street gangs, also curbing the activities which result to adult criminal behavior thus helping with the crime rate our society faces, which in turn saves tax payers moneys from having to foot the bill for prosecution, incarceration and arrests just to highlight a few, therefore investing in various delinquency programs can be apart of turning this problem around. These programs that have already been implemented and shown to be successful are those that stop youth from engaging in delinquent behavior, community and school-based programs play a big part in helping first-time offenders from further problems with the system.

Comparing and contrasting two theories

There are numerous criminological theories related to street gangs, the two I chose to focus on are Strain Theory and Subculture Theory. Strain theory states that joining a gang is a result of individuals having high aspirations without the resources to achieve such aspirations. It assumes that there are similar if not the same economic goals amongst the youth in a community. These economic goals can range anywhere from wealth, to success, and power. The lack of resources with such high expectations drives the youth to illegally achieving what they want to fulfill their desires. There have also been various types of theories developed from this theory. For example, Cloward and Ohlin developed a strain theory which is known as differential opportunity theory and it suggests that gang membership has stemmed from lower-class young men and their inability to achieve goals set by society. The second theory to be discussed is the subculture theory and it stems from the strain theory. Both theories assume that there are similar economic goals amongst the youth. However, they differ in the fact that they don’t assume lower-class youth are trying to attain the same goal as middle class youth. Lower-class youth create their own goals, a new subculture into which they fit in. This subculture consists of norms that are ideal for a criminal lifestyle this includes toughness, excitement, fate, achieving recognition through crime and the pursuit of pleasure.


Street gangs are prevalent in our society and more so in our communities effecting the youth. The common problems and trends associated can be broken into several categories including legal issues that the criminal justice face, juvenile issues, minorities, criminological theories and methods of prevention and intervention. These are the main points that are discussed in this essay. One of the major issues faced in the criminal justice system is the amount of youths involved in gangs and how they can be perceived, and the effects of these young individuals being involved. Juvenile issues covered the mental and psychological of these young adults. In the juvenile system two thirds of the juvenile population are minorities and minorities make up on third of the population in the United States. Theories are developed to better understand juveniles; these theories are based on the idea that the economic goals of the youth are the same across communities and this is the reason for their actions. While the methods of intervention and prevention provided information on programs that will help reduce the cycle of juvenile delinquency.



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