Sample Research Paper: Why it is so hard to stay away from street gang membership

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Sample Research Paper: Why it is so hard to stay away from street gang membership


According to the Centre for Social Justice report 2018, gangs are a part of life in Britain. Since the publication of Simon Antrobus’ Dying to Belong, the Centre for Social Justice estimated there were about 50,000 gang members across Britain (Antrobus 2009). Today, gang members are estimated to be about 70,000. The police estimate that there are up to 250 gangs and 4,500 gang members in London. Britain saw a rise in gangs in the last decade. The Centre for Social Justice estimates that additional 20,000 people joined a gang since 2009.  Gangs are involved in crimes such as violence. For example, knife crimes with injury, shootings and child sexual exploitation. Statistics show that gangs are involved in half of the knife crimes with injury, 60 percent of shootings, and 29 percent of child sexual exploitation. It is important to address and explore the workings of gangs in the UK to stop the disastrous effects of gang violence. Gang violence has a significant social and economic cost. Also, cost to the victims of gang violence is immeasurable since they are left with trauma and distress. According to the Home Office, the economic and social costs of gang violence was £1.5 million in 2003. In 2010, the Home Office updated the figure to £1.8 million. Today, the cost of homicide stands at £2.2 million (The Centre for Social Justice 2018). Therefore, addressing and exploring the workings of gangs in the UK will help Criminal Justice to curb gang violence and reduce social and economic costs. Also, Criminal Justice will be able to develop preventative measures to stop gang violence. The paper will explore the workings of gangs in the UK. The first section will explore entering a street. The theories explored in this section include; Strain theory, Social learning theory, self-control theory of crime and unified theory. The section will address interventions for rehabilitation. Lastly, the conclusion will round up key points and state explain why it is so hard to stay away from street gang membership.

Section One: Entering a Street Gang

Strain theory

The theories that explain entering a street gang include; Strain theory, social learning theory, self-control theory of crime and unified theory. The strain theory was developed by American sociologist Robert Merton in 1930 and state that there are certain stressors or strains that increase the chances of engaging in criminal activity (Botchkovar, Tittle and Antonaccio 2013). The stressors or strains identified include a lack of income and lack of quality education. In the 1950s, American criminologist Albert Cohen and American sociologist Richard Cloward Lloyd Ohlin developed the same ideas as Robert Merton. Merton stated that the strain causes negative emotions in individuals, thus pushing them to corrective action. The corrective action is engagement in crime. Also, females join gangs because of the stressors and strains- lack of income, and protection from neighbourhood violence. Most importantly, females join gangs to earn respect in society (Auyong, Smith and Ferguson 2018).

Albert Cohen’s theory of juvenile delinquency builds on Merton’s strain theory. Juvenile delinquency refers to a situation whereby an individual under the age of 18 years disobeys the law. Cohen stated that individuals become juvenile delinquent because they do not know how to make themselves happy. Such individuals, therefore, derive happiness from disobeying the law. Within the juvenile delinquency theory, Merton developed the anomie theory which explains the unlawful behaviour of people under the age of 18 years (Näsi, Aaltonen and Kivivuori 2016). Juveniles set goals which are not attained within the jurisdiction of the law, so they are motivated to break the law to attain their goals. For example, having the desire to buy a car but one does not have the means to get money. A juvenile may resort to crime to get money for buying a car.

Cohen’s strain theory states that that social deprivation causes individuals to engage in crime.  Cohen developed the subculture theory to explain juvenile delinquency. Cohen stated that juveniles who fail to fit in the society seek a sense of belonging from a subculture. In the subculture, the juveniles meet other members who do not fit in the normal society (Botchkovar et al. 2013). Furthermore, the differential opportunity theory explains Cohen’s juvenile delinquency theory. According to Cloward and Ohlin, the juvenile may resort to crime if they fail to get an opportunity for employment.  

However, the critics of the strain theory argue that Cohen assumed that those in the lower class do not have aspirations to achieve more. A critical examination of gangs shows the existence of middle-class individuals in gangs (Näsi et al. 2016). Therefore, the theory that relates solely to lower classes is outdated. Today, there are opportunities available to a wide range of backgrounds.

Social learning theory

Social learning theory was first advanced by Albert Bandura and states that people learn from interaction with each other. Learning takes place through observation, imitation and modelling. Therefore, people engage in crime because they see successful gang members. Bandura states that people need to be motivated and have relevant skills to take part in the criminal offences they desire. Learning to engage in crime is like an apprenticeship where individuals are subjected to learning.

According to the social learning theory, individuals may learn from family or those who have cared for them. Individuals see the gains from crime and get motivated to join a gang. When they get positive gains such as money and can take care of their family, they feel they do the right thing (Tittle, Antonaccio and Botchkovar 2012). Social learning theory applies more to juveniles because they learn behaviours from peers. Females may join gangs because they learn from their subculture- a gang that does not fit in normal society.

The criticism of social learning theory is that it does not allow for the existence of accountability because people learn from others. If a person about crime from another person, then people are not responsible for their actions. Critics state that everyone should be accountable for his or her actions. Additionally, the critics argue that a Bobo doll is designed to be hit and boys have more testosterone than girls so aggression is evident. It would be ideal to find other studies testing social learning theories in different settings with a different scenario.

Self-control theory of crime.

The self-control theory of crime was first advanced by Travis Hirschi and Michael Gottfredson in the 1960s and states that individuals join gangs because of lack of self-control.  Hirschi and Gottfredson outlined the process through which crime occurs. First, an impulsive personality. Second, a lack of self-control. Third, weak social bonds. Fourth, the opportunity to commit crime. If an individual lacks self-control, there are high chances of joining a gang ( In the study, “The General Factor of Self-Control and Cost Consideration: A Critical Test of the General Theory of Crime,” Vaughan et al. (2019) found that crime enables an individual to obtain immediate gratification. Self-control is the ability to delay short term desires. Hirschi and Gottfredson stated that lack of self-control can be traced from childhood where an individual becomes delinquent.

Although studies associate lack of self-control with delinquency, the theory applies to various criminal acts, for example, burglary and murder. Therefore, critics question how self-control can be used to explain all criminal acts. Furthermore, critics find flaws in the self-control theory where white-collar criminals delay immediate gratification to gain high-status occupational positions.  Furthermore, critics argue that the association between low self-control and engaging in crime cannot be measured empirically. Any other measurement leads to a weak association (Vaughan et al. 2019).

Unified theory

The unified theory was first advanced in 1963 by Arthur Staats and unifies various aspects of behaviourism. Staats argued that all behavioural positions connect to produce a particular aspect- reinforcement, punishment, pleasure and pain (Barton-Bellessa, Jihee Lee and Shon 2015). Pleasure and pain cause an individual to engage in or avoid a particular act. Individuals engage in criminal acts because they derive pleasure from such acts. Conversely, they avoid normal society workings because they derive pain.

Critics of a unified theory, including Stats, acknowledged that the approach to unification fails. The unified theory fails to explain why individuals join criminal gangs because there is no identified variable. The theory unifies all aspects of behavioural psychology, thus making it difficult to determine why individuals join gangs (Kang and Kang 2017). All in all, at least there are aspects such as reinforcement and punishment, pleasure and pain, which theoretically, justify an individual’s involvement in criminal acts.

Section Two: Interventions for Rehabilitation

Interventions for rehabilitation focuses on preventing people from joining or returning to gangs after leaving. For interventions, authorities such as law enforcement agencies must identify the factors that cause people to join gangs. The authorities can address the factors or use law enforcement to stop people from joining or returning to gangs after time in prison. The authorities responsible for interventions for rehabilitation include the Home Office Early Intervention Foundation, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC), and the Operation Trident Metropolitan Police and Gang matrix.

The Home Office Early Intervention Foundation aims to help practitioners notice risk factors which may mean that young are likely to be involved with a gang. The identification of risk factors promotes collaborative working across departments to identify issues that may cause young people to join gangs. For example, NSPCC highlights the risk factors that may cause young people to join gangs- this includes peer pressure, money or family problems. Also, a child may feel protected and have a sense of belonging to a gang (Vasquez, Osman and Wood 2012).  The authorities, therefore, can prevent young people from returning to gangs after time in prison by identifying the risk factors and addressing them. For example, the authorities reunite young people with their families where the relationship was strained. Where a juvenile fails to identify his or her family, the authorities can take him or her to a children’s home.

Operation Trident Metropolitan Police and Gang matrix aims to help the authorities to identify those known to be in a gang. Although helping the authorities identify gang members can be helpful, it can be dangerous if the information leaks. Gang members can become violent knowing the police are after arresting them (Storrod and Densley 2017).  If done with prudence, it is possible to offer treatment programmes that focus on breaking ties with the gang. Focusing on breaking the ties can be safer than naming and identifying the gang members because the identified members may become violent to the identifiers.

Most importantly, the authorities should focus on addressing the stressors or strains identified in the strain theory. Young people engage in criminal acts because of the stressors such as lack of basic needs due to low socioeconomic status of parents (Antrobus 2009).  Consequently, young people are forced to steal and they can only find protection in a gang. The authorities, therefore, should focus on improving the social living for children. For example, in recent years the authorities enrolled young people from low socioeconomic backgrounds in apprenticeships, entrepreneurial schemes and university spaces. When young people have the opportunity in society to develop their skills for future occupation, they do not have the time to join criminal gangs. Also, enrolling young people in apprenticeships helps them to learn from masters of arts from different fields such as painting, singing, building and construction and other vocations. As a result, young people do not have the time to join a gang.


Gangs are still a part of Britain despite the efforts by authorities to crack them (gangs) down. The increase in the number of gangs in the UK is an issue of concern for the authorities because of the social and economic cost they cause. Gangs leave victims with lifetime physical and emotional scars, which are detrimental to their health. Psychological theories such as the social learning theory and unified theory explain why people join gangs. It is important to use both the psychological as well as criminological theories to understand the workings of gangs and why people join gangs. For instance, the psychological theories consider the fulfilment of basic needs and a sense of belonging as the main factors for a person to a gang. Criminological theories consider weak societal and family bonds as the main factors that stimulate crime acts. Despite the dangers of gang membership, it is so hard to stay away from gang membership because of the need for income, protection from society and police, and a sense of belonging. Once a person joins a gang, it is difficult to leave because of the benefits he or she gets from the gang. A person can only leave a gang if he or she does not benefit from the association with the gang. However, as long as a person still benefits, staying away is difficult. The gang provides income from stealing, provides protection and a sense of belonging. People join gangs for different reasons- income, protection and a sense of belonging. Therefore, the authorities should focus on improving the social living conditions of young people after leaving prison to prevent them from returning to gang membership.


Antrobus, S. (2009). Dying to belong an in-depth review of street gangs in Britain : a policy report by the Gangs Working Group. London, Centre for Social Justice.

Auyong, Z. E. G., Smith, S. and Ferguson, C. J. (2018) ‘Girls in Gangs: Exploring Risk in a British Youth Context’, Crime & Delinquency, 64(13), pp. 1698–1717. doi: 10.1177/0011128718763130.

Barton-Bellessa, S. M., Jihee Lee and Shon, P. (2015) ‘Correcting Misconceptions About Alfred Adler’s Psychological Theory of Crime in Introductory Criminology Textbooks: Moving Adler’s Theory of Crime Forward’, Journal of Individual Psychology, 71(1), pp. 34–57.

Botchkovar, E., Tittle, C. and Antonaccio, O. (2013) ‘Strain, Coping, and Socioeconomic Status: Coping Histories and Present Choices’, Journal of Quantitative Criminology, 29(2), pp. 217–250. doi: 10.1007/s10940-012-9177-7.

Kang, H.-W. and Kang, H.-B. (2017) ‘Prediction of crime occurrence from multi-modal data using deep learning’, PLoS ONE, 12(4), pp. 1–19. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0176244.

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Näsi, M., Aaltonen, M. and Kivivuori, J. (2016) ‘Youth hate crime offending: the role of strain, social control and self-control theories’, Journal of Scandinavian Studies in Criminology & Crime Prevention, 17(2), pp. 177–184. doi: 10.1080/14043858.2016.1260332.

Storrod, M. L. and Densley, J. A. (2017) ‘“Going viral” and “Going country”: the expressive and instrumental activities of street gangs on social media’, Journal of Youth Studies, 20(6), pp. 677–696. doi: 10.1080/13676261.2016.1260694.

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Tittle, C. R., Antonaccio, O. and Botchkovar, E. (2012) ‘Social Learning, Reinforcement and Crime: Evidence from Three European Cities’, Social Forces, 90(3), pp. 863–890. doi: 10.1093/sf/sor020.

Vasquez, E. A., Osman, S. and Wood, J. L. (2012) ‘Rumination and the Displacement of Aggression in United Kingdom Gang-Affiliated Youth’, Aggressive Behavior, 38(1), pp. 89–97. doi: 10.1002/ab.20419.

Vaughan, T. J. et al. (2019) ‘The General Factor of Self-Control and Cost Consideration: A Critical Test of the General Theory of Crime’, Crime & Delinquency, 65(6), pp. 731–771. doi: 10.1177/0011128718776213.

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