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A gang is an organized group of criminals that often dominate territories in a community and engages in regular illegal activity with hopes of lucrative benefits. This illicit activity includes violent crime, procuring, distribution of narcotics, fraud, and robberies (Dunbar, 2017). It destroys the country’s economy since gangs’ criminal activity leads to increased spending on justice and health care (Dunbar, 2017).
It is also damaging to the community because having a gang member in the neighborhood evokes fear in citizens (Dunbar, 2017). Many risk factors come with gang membership, including incarceration and exposure to violent crime that can lead to fatal consequences. Since individuals become gangsters despite these risks, it is necessary to investigate what influences people to join a gang. This paper will explore the state of the problem in Canada and use the rational choice theory to explain the motivation of gang members. Although the lucrative benefits may seem to be the only reason gangsters engage in their activity, there is also broad psychological reasoning behind it.
Criminal Activities and Member Profiles of Gangs
The illegal activity of gangs is a crucial problem in Canada. Involvement in criminal groups occurs in young people of both genders and living both in cities and rural areas (EPS, n.d.). The youth are more inclined to be involved in gangs than adults (Allen & Superle, 2016). Statistics show that “from 2005 to 2014, 29% of homicides involving a youth accused were identified as gang-related” (Allen & Superle, 2016, para. 48).
Furthermore, 57% of adolescents accused of property crimes were co-offenders, which is the highest percentage among different age groups (Allen & Superle, 2016). Although co-offending does not necessarily imply the engagement in gangs, it may be assumed that a certain number of young people charged with a robbery committed the crime with their gang fellows. Thus, the activity of criminal groups is dangerous not only because it breaks the public peace but also due to the high involvement of youth who ruin their lives by joining such bands.
If the criminal activity of gangs is omitted, they appear to be similar to any other social group distinguished by specific attributes. For example, gangsters may utilize some symbols of belonging to a group, such as tattoos, clothes, or hand signs (Dunbar, 2017). From a sociological point of view, the existence of gangs is an explainable phenomenon. Nevertheless, due to the malicious nature of these organized groups, it is crucial to cope with them to reduce their negative influence on the community.
What is more difficult to understand is why young people choose to join criminals rather than other social groups. The major reasons for this include poverty, dysfunctional families, identity problems, lack of educational or career opportunities, or the pressure to become a member (EPS, n.d.). Some individuals engage in such groups for exciting experiences received by participating in criminal activities or taking drugs and alcohol (Dunbar, 2017).
The study involving former gang members showed that individuals who engaged in a criminal group in the community did it “for money and to get respect” (Chalas & Grekul, 2017, p. 373). Those who joined a gang in prison also wanted to get respect, but the other reasons were “for protection” and “a friend was in a gang” (Chalas & Grekul, 2017, p. 374). Hence, people become gangsters with hopes of obtaining things that they lack in their lives, such as support, recognition, or money.
One of the main questions related to gangs is how to prevent individuals from joining them and help those who are already involved. Canada’s authorities address this problem by establishing the Youth Gang Prevention Fund, which provides organizations with the funding necessary to prevent and intervene in young people’s engagement in gangs (Dunbar, 2017). Criminologists say that people are often afraid of leaving a gang because of the risk of retaliation (Chalas & Grekul, 2017).
It is also difficult for gang members to exit a criminal group while being in a correctional center because of its specific environment (Chalas & Grekul, 2017). Therefore, it is crucial to learn to identify people willing to break away from their criminal lives and provide them with the necessary support.
Application of Rational Choice Theory to Gang Members
Poverty, family issues, a lack of support, and other issues mentioned above are external factors influencing people to join a gang. However, an individual may have an intrinsic motivation to become a member. The rational choice theory can give an insight into this question. According to this theory, a human is a reasonable creature who weighs the pros and cons, costs and benefits of a particular decision to make a rational choice (Cornish & Clarke, 2017).
With regard to criminology, it means that “offenders seek to benefit themselves by their criminal behavior” (Cornish & Clarke, 2017, p. 197). Cornish and Clarke (2017) argue that perpetrators commit a specific offense not because of their general thirst for crime but for a particular reason. This reason depends on the characteristics of the misdeed, such as potential risks and the amount of recompense, and features of the offender, such as specific skills (Cornish & Clarke, 2017). Thus, committing a crime is not a thoughtless act but a planned event with the purpose of some profit.
With regard to the facts about people’s involvement in gangs, it is possible to conclude that individuals choose to join a criminal group because they see benefits in it. These benefits may include not only money but also support, recognition, a sense of belonging, or exciting experiences. The choice to join a gang may seem rational to individuals since they are likely to see more advantages in becoming a gangster than in continuing their ordinary lives.
However, it is a misconception because the reality of gangs is different from their image existing in the minds of ordinary people. After joining a criminal group, people are often disappointed with this participation because they do not get the desired money or friends and do not feel important or useful (Chalas & Grekul, 2017). Therefore, the primary conclusion is that a person’s choice to join a gang cannot be truly rational if he or she is unaware of the real situation within this group. The future research may consider a question whether personal choices would be more rational if people were well-informed of the consequences of involving in a gang.
Limitations and Recommendations
The studies of individuals’ involvement in gangs have one significant limitation. Canada’s authorities still do not have the exact statistics of gang activity in the country (Dunbar, 2017). These data are difficult to obtain because people are usually unwilling to disclose their participation in a gang (Dunbar, 2017). Therefore, future research may be directed toward the estimation of the number of actual and potential gang members in Canada.
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To sum up, gang activity is a crucial problem in Canada. Young people, especially those coming from poor and dysfunctional families and lacking social support, are at the highest risk of joining a group of criminals. According to the rational choice theory, perpetrators go for crimes intentionally after analyzing the potential risks and outcomes. However, individuals’ decision to become gangsters can hardly be called a rational choice since they often do not know what awaits them within a gang.
Allen, M. K., & Superle, T. (2016). Youth crime in Canada, 2014. Web.
Chalas, D. M., & Grekul, J. (2017). I’ve had enough: Exploring gang life from the perspective of (ex) members in Alberta. The Prison Journal, 97(3), 364-386.
Cornish, D. B., & Clarke, R. V. (2017). Understanding crime displacement: An application of rational choice theory. In M. Natarajan (Ed.), Crime opportunity theories: Routine activity, rational choice and their variants (pp. 197-211). New York, NY: Routledge.
Dunbar, L. (2017). Youth gangs in Canada: A review of current topics and issues. Web.
Edmonton Police Service. (n.d.). Traits of gang members. Web.