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Juvenile and Youth Gangs - Correlates Of Gang Proliferation

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Correlates of gang proliferation

Still, there can be no question that gang problems had spread across the country over a period of two decades. Gangs have now been documented in every state in the nation, and throughout small-, medium-, and large-sized cities. It should be no surprise that researchers are interested in what factors may have led to this enormous proliferation of gangs in the United States.

Initially, some observers in politics, law enforcement, and journalism suggested that the spread of gangs was part of a purposeful, planned effort on the part of more established gangs to extend their influence and territory. From this perspective, one could imagine gangs in more established, chronic gang cities such as Chicago and Los Angeles looking for new territory to develop expanded membership and acquire new drug turf. The validity of this perspective was challenged by a study conducted by Cheryl Maxson and Malcolm Klein. Maxson and Klein interviewed police officials across the country to determine their perceptions of how gang members might have migrated to their respective jurisdictions. From their survey, Maxson and Klein learned that the spread of gangs, by and large, was due to movement of the families of gang members from one city to another, usually to be close to relatives or to find employment. Another source of the proliferation of symbols of gang membership and gang names is popular culture. Movies, rap videos, and television shows, symbols of gang membership, aspects of gang life, and gang style provided adolescents with models to emulate across the nation, and even around the world. In this way, gang migration can be viewed as part of a larger set of processes rather than as the purposeful movement of gangs into new territory.

A number of researchers have suggested that while popular culture and ordinary migration of gang-involved youth served as mechanisms for gang proliferation, changing social and economic conditions in the 1980s may have facilitated and accelerated the spread of gangs. Studies of gang emergence in rust belt cities such as Milwaukee and St. Louis led researchers to emphasize the importance of the presence of an economically disadvantaged urban underclass to the development and durability of youth gangs. The isolation of the urban underclass from the nation's economic mainstream was associated with another factor of some importance to the emergence and increasing violence of youth gangs, the incarceration of increasing proportions of urban minority youth. Juvenile detention centers and prisons are now very much a significant institutional feature of gang life.

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