Should Convicted Youth Gang Members Be Treated Like Other Juvenile Delinquents, Including Status Offenders? According to the National Gang Center, “there is no single, generally accepted definition of a “gang.” State and local jurisdictions tend to develop their own definitions. The term “street gang” is often used interchangeably with “youth gang” as well as “criminal street gang,” with the latter explicitly denoting the element of criminal activity found almost universally in gang-related legislation” (National Gang Center, 2011). There are different types of gangs, for example: There are Delinquent Youth Gangs which are considered as groups of young individuals, juveniles, who “hang out” and do everything together. The group will identify themselves with similar clothing, hand signals, or colors. They have engaged in delinquent acts or undesirable behavior such as truancy, status offenses or minor vandalism. Their behavior often warrants the attention of the local law enforcement, residents and the school system; but they have not reached the level of committing serious crimes. Traditional Turf Based Gangs are when groups of young people, juveniles and or adults, who have a known name and leader or leaders who identify themselves through clothing, hand signals, and colors. Turf Based Gangs usually associate themselves with a territory, which they defend against rival gang members. These gang members have engaged in such acts as vandalism (graffiti), assault, and in some cases homicide. Then there are the Gain Oriented Gangs which are groups of young people, juveniles and adults. They are similar to the Turf Based Gangs because they also have a known name and a leader or leaders. The individuals within this type of gang repeatedly engage in criminal activities as a group or individually for the sole purpose of economic gain. Gain oriented gang members will engage in offenses such as robbery, theft and the distribution and sale of a controlled substance. Lastly, is the Violent/Hate Gangs which are groups of young people, juveniles and adults with a known name and a leader or leaders. The Violent/Hate gang members collectively engage in criminal acts of violence towards groups or individuals, which is considered to be their primary motivation. Geographical turf, material and economical gain is secondary. The offenses that The Violent/Hate gangs commit are serious assaults and homicide.
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Youth Involvement in Gangs
The 2004 National Youth Gang Survey issued data estimating that 41 percent of youth gang members were juveniles and 59 percent were young adults age 18 or older (Snyder and Sickmund, 2006, p.83). The age of membership for Youth Gang members is generally between the ages of 12 and 24 (Hess, 2010, p.200). There are many reasons why youth join gangs. One reason is the socio-economic background of the individual. Other reasons could be for attention, wanting to feel a part of something, peer pressure, financial gain, the feeling of being loved and accepted (something that they may not feel at home), and for protection. Children search for acceptance and attention from gangs who show a false sense of love by giving the child street status and an identity of their own. In return the child shows complete loyalty to the gang to the extent of disowning biological family members. Many parents have no clue that their child is affiliated with a gang. To combat the growing problem of youth gang’s parents must become more involved with their child’s day to day activities. Parents must educate themselves on the warning signs of gang activity. Parents should have an in-depth discussion of gangs and the harsh realities of living a life as a gang member, for example an extensive criminal record, prison, and death of friends and family.
Juvenile Delinquents and Status Offenses
A juvenile delinquent is a person who is under age, which is usually below the age of 18, who is found to have committed a crime in states which have declared by law that a minor lacks responsibility and thus may not be sentenced as an adult (Farlex, 2011) . However, the legislatures of several states have reduced the age of a criminal responsibility for serious crimes or for repeat offenders to as low as 14. Status offense is an offense committed by a juvenile that would not be a crime if committed by an adult. Some examples of status offenses are, truancy, running away, curfew violation, incorrigibility or endangering health and morals.
A convicted youth gang member should not be treated like a status offender or juvenile delinquent. (Hess, 2010, p.200) states “belonging to a gang is not illegal in this country; however, many of the activities that gangs participate in are illegal.” “Gangs commit shootings, assaults, robberies and other violent crimes; engage in extortion and other felonies; traffic in drugs; and generally terrorize neighborhoods. Convicted youth gang members are aware of the crimes they commit and some consider it as a way of life. These crimes are substantially more serious than status offenses or delinquent behavior. I feel that offender based criteria should be the factor which control the decision-making process, be it the decision to directly file or transfer a juvenile offender to adult court for prosecution or the decision as to what sanction should ultimately be imposed if a juvenile offender is convicted. Gangs actively recruit membership in their early-to-mid teens to carry out violent and heinous crimes as a way to prove themselves to gang leaders and to increase their individual standing within the gang’s hierarchy. Because many states mandate lesser penalties for violent juvenile offenders than adults, gang leadership often have juvenile gang members perform violent crimes towards others because there is less of an ability to prosecute them. While I strongly believe treatment, rehabilitation, youth gang prevention initiatives and after-school programs are important tools in addressing America’s gang problem, the ability to provide swift enforcement of violent juvenile offenders is necessary to keep our nation’s communities safe.
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