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Gangs in America's Communities

Gangs in America's Communities

Second Edition

March 2015 | 344 pages | SAGE Publications, Inc
Gangs in America's Communities offers a comprehensive, up-to-date, and theoretically grounded approach to gangs and associated youth violence. Authors Dr. James C. Howell and Dr. Elizabeth Griffiths introduce readers to the foundations of gang studies through the origins of gangs, definitions and categories of youth/street gangs, transnational as well as prison gangs (and the distinctions between these arguably different types), national trends in gang presence and gang-related violence across American cities, distinguishing attributes of serious street gangs, and myths and realities.  

Students and instructors will benefit from the Second Edition’s comprehensive treatment of the state of the literature on individual-level causes and consequences of gang membership.  Going beyond the traditional topics covered in most texts in the market, this book uniquely describes specific gang patterns, trends, and cultures within a group-based structure while illuminating the most promising avenues for reducing the presence and seriousness of gangs in American communities.
Chapter 1: History of Gangs in the United States

The Influence of Population Migration Patterns on Gang Emergence

Street Gang Emergence in the Northeast Region

First Period of New York City Gang Growth

Second Period of New York City Gang Growth

Third Period of New York City Gang Growth

Modern-Day Eastern Gangs

Street Gang Emergence in the Midwest Region

First Period of Chicago Gang Growth

Second Period of Chicago Gang Growth

Third Period of Chicago Gang Growth

Modern-Day Midwest Gangs

Street Gang Emergence in the West Region

First Period of Los Angeles Gang Growth

Second Period of Los Angeles Gang Growth

Third Period of Los Angeles Gang Growth

Modern-Day Western Gangs

Street Gang Emergence in the South Region

First Period of Southern Gang Growth

Second Period of Southern Gang Growth

Modern-Day Southern Gangs

Another Wave of Immigrant Groups

The Institutionalization of Street Gangs

Chapter 2: Myths and Realities of Youth Gangs

Consideration of Key Myths About Gangs

Myth 1: Most Gangs Have a Formal Organization

Myth 2: Gangs of the Same Name Are Connected

Myth 3: Our Gangs Came From Somewhere Else

Myth 4: The Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and 18th Street (M-18) Gangs Are Spreading Across the United States

Myth 5: Gangs, Drugs, and Violence Are Inexorably Linked

Myth 6: A “Wanna-Be” Is a “Gonna-Be

Myth 7: Children Are Joining Gangs at Younger and Younger Ages

Myth 8: Gang Members Spend Most of Their Time Planning or Committing Crimes

Myth 9: Gangs Often Have Highly Unusual Initiation Rites

Myth 10: Most Youths Are Pressured to Join Gangs

Myth 11: Adults Recruit Many Adolescents to Join Gangs

Myth 12: Once Kids Join a Gang, They’re Pretty Much Lost for Good

Myth 13: The Gang’s Here for Good

Myth 14: Gang Members Are a New Wave of Super Predators

Myth 15: Gangs Were Actively Involved in the Crack Cocaine Epidemic

Myth 16: Zero Tolerance of Gang Behaviors Will Eliminate Gangs From Schools

Myth 17: Sole Reliance on Law Enforcement Will Wipe Out Gangs

Myth 18: Nothing Works With Gangs

Chapter 3: Defining Gangs and Gang Members

Defining Gangs

Typologies of Gang Members and Gang Structures

A Spectrum of Gangs and Other Groups

Gang Subculture

Key Elements of a Gang Definition

A Recommended Gang Definition for Practical Purposes

Defining Gang Members

National Data on Gang Members

National Data on the Number of Gangs and Associated Members

Age of Gang Members

Race and Ethnicity of Gang Members


Chapter 4: General Macro-Level Theories and Modern-Day Applications

The Chicago School and Development of the Social Disorganization Perspective

Thrasher’s Contributions to Social Disorganization Theory

Application of Social Disorganization Theory to Gangs

Modern-Day Application of Social Disorganization Theory to Gangs

Other Pioneering Gang Theorizing

An Explanation of Gang Origins, Expansion, and Violence

Macro-level Theories

Underclass Theory

Routine Activities (Opportunity) Theory

Conflict Theory

Chapter 5: Gang Involvement as a Developmental Trajectory

Developmental Theories

Developmental Delinquency Pathways

Location of Gang Membership in Developmental Pathways

A Developmental Model of Gang Involvement

Perceived Benefits of Joining a Gang: Gang Attractions

Relationship of Risk Factors to Gang Involvement

A Delinquency and Gang Theory

A Review of Risk and Protective Factors for Gang Involvement

The Preschool Stage

The School Entry Stage

The Later Childhood Stage

The Early Adolescence Stage

Protective Factors

Apex of Gang Member Criminal Activity

Long-term Impact of Gangs on Participant

Desistance from Gang Membership

Chapter 6: Girls and Gangs

Females in Early Gang Studies

Modern-Day Studies of Female Gang Members

Level of Female Gang Involvement and Seriousness of Crimes

The Question of Increasing Female Gang Involvement

The Importance of Gang Gender Composition

Female Associates of Gang Members: Risks and Re-victimization

Risk Factors for Girls’ Gang Joining

Girls’ Unique Treatment Needs and Implications for Prevention and Treatment

Recommended Female-Specific Services

Recommended Gender-Neutral Services

Chapter 7: National Gang Problem Trends: 1996 to 2009

An Overview of Nationwide Gang Activity in the Modern Era

Gang Growth From the 1960s to the 1990s

Explanations of Gang Growth in the 1980s and 1990s

Nationally Reported Youth Gang Activity From the Mid-1990s

Patterns in U.S. Localities’ Histories of Gang Activity

Patterns of Gang Emergence

Presence of Gang Activity, 1996 – 2009

Patterns of Gang Presence in Larger Cities

Political & Criminal Justice Context

Economic Context

Demographic Context

Cultural Context

Modal Cities

Chronic Gang City: Modesto, California

Emerging Gang City: Warwick, Rhode Island

Contracting Gang City: Newport Beach, California

Variable Gang City: Asheville, North Carolina

Regional Variations in Gang Presence

Explaining the Emergence, Persistence, and Decline of Gang Activity

Factors affecting the Emergence of Gangs in New Cities

Factors affecting the Persistence of Gang Activity in Cities

Factors affecting the Decline of Gang Activity in Cities

Chapter 8: Urban Gangs and Violence

The Intensity of Gangs in Cities

Patterns and Trends in the Number of Active Gangs in Cities

Patterns and Trends in the Number of Gang Members in Cities

Serious Gang Problem Trends

Gang-Related Homicides and Serious Gang Activity

Regional Variation in Gang-Related Homicide Trends

A Snapshot of Gang Homicide in the Largest Cities

Case Studies of Gang Problems in Large Cities

Contextual Characteristics That Contribute to Serious Gang Problems

City Characteristics

Availability of Crime Facilitators

Drug-Related Factors

Features of Gangs That Contribute to Serious Gang Problems

Number of Gangs

Number of Gang Members

Gang Structure & Conflicts

Prison Gangs

Transnational Gangs as a Version of Street Gangs

Violent Hot Spots and Gang Set Space

Group Process

Code of the Street

Chapter 9: What Works: Gang Prevention

Gang Intervention: Risk-Focused, Data-Driven, and Research-Based Gang Prevention

Community Assessments

Starter Gangs


A Framework for Prevention and Early Intervention

Strategies for Delinquency and Gang Intervention and Prevention

Building a Continuum of Effective Delinquency Prevention and Early Intervention Programs

Child Exposure to Violence and Community Safety

Chapter 10: What Works In A Comprehensive Gang Program Approach

The Comprehensive, Communitywide Gang Program Model

Comprehensive Gang Program Model Administrative Structure

Implementing the Comprehensive Gang Program Model

Evidence-Based Gang Programs

Evidence-Based Gang Prevention Programs

Evidence-Based Gang Intervention Programs

Gang Suppression

The Evidence-Based Comprehensive Gang Program Model

The Six-Site Comprehensive Gang Program Model Evaluation

Compatibility of the Comprehensive Gang Program Model and Operation Ceasefire

On the Horizon



Student Study Site

The open-access Student Study Site includes the following:

  • EXCLUSIVE! Access to certain full-text SAGE journal articles that have been carefully selected for each chapter. Each article supports and expands on the concepts presented in the chapter. This feature also provides questions to focus and guide student interpretation. Combine cutting-edge academic journal scholarship with the topics in your course for a robust classroom experience.
  • Multimedia content includes video, audio, and web resources that appeal to students with different learning styles.
Instructor Resource site
The password-protected Instructor Site supports your teaching by making it easy to integrate quality content and create a rich learning environment for students.
  • Test banks provide a diverse range of pre-written options as well as the opportunity to edit any question and/or insert your own personalized questions to effectively assess students’ progress and understanding.

Excellent and thorough discussion of gangs and gang behavior.

Professor Michael Proctor
Arts and Sciences, Texas A & M
July 29, 2015

Sample Materials & Chapters

Chapter 5

Chapter 8

James C. Howell

Dr. James C. (Buddy) Howell is a Senior Research Associate with the National Gang Center, in Tallahassee, Florida, where he has worked for over twenty years. He formerly worked at the U.S. Department of Justice for 23 years, mostly as director of research and program development in the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. He has published over 50 works on youth and street gangs, and a similar number on juvenile justice and delinquency prevention, and seven books on both topics. His gang publication topics include street gang history; gang homicides; drug trafficking; gangs in schools; hybrid gangs; myths about gangs; risk... More About Author

Elizabeth A. Griffiths

Dr. Elizabeth Griffiths is an Associate Professor in the School of Criminal Justice at Rutgers University-Newark. After completing her Ph.D. in Sociology at the University of Toronto, she joined the faculty of the Department of Sociology at Emory University before moving to Rutgers in 2011. She is also a former predoctoral fellow of the National Consortium on Violence Research and a former Junior Fellow of the Centre of Criminology at the University of Toronto. Her research spans multiple substantive and methodological areas, including communities and crime, spatial diffusion of violence, temporal trends in homicide, the emergence of gangs... More About Author

Also available as a South Asia Edition.

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ISBN: 9781483379722