Gangs have decimated many lives and have caused much economic damage in North America. Despite law enforcement effort the Gangs persists to exist. Attribution, snitches, and arrests have done little to stop the Mafia. Gangs are able to continually recruit new members. This paper will discuss from a theoretical framework to answer why people join the gangs. Gangs are able to continually infiltrate communities and recruit members because of broken and poor communities that do not have weak social institutions for socialization ad control and because of societal strain for financial success.
Definition and Economic Cost In order to understand organized crime and gang membership, a consensus must be formed of the definitions. The term for organized crime varies amongst countries, regions, and legal spheres. Currently, no precise definition exists, and agreed understandings vary amongst policy makers, academics, and governments. However, for the purpose of this essay the general Canadian definition will be used. In the Criminal Code of Canada, organized crime is defined as——– Using the Canadian definition it can be seen that the Mafia is considered a organized crime group within North America.
As such a large focus will be placed on better understanding of why people join the mafia. Moreover, understanding the mafia is important because of the economic damage organized crime groups like the Mafia create. The Mafia earns approximately $60 billion each year at an annual cost to the American economy of 18. 2 billion in economic output, 414,000 jobs and $77. 20 in per capita disposable income. Despite its impact on the American economy, the mafia has only rarely been the subject of serious academic analysis.
Social Disorganization Theory Socially disorganized communities can result in gang membership. Thrasher’s (1972) argues that when a community is socially disorganized the neighbourhood becomes more likely to transmit criminal traditions which are transferable as any other cultural element. For instance, families that are poor and live in the inner city tend to have lower levels of functional authority over their children. As such, when these children are exposed to the delinquent traditions of the numerous existing organized crime groups they succumb to the delinquent behaviour.
A culture climate occurs that allows gang membership to become a satisfying alternative to unsatisfying legitimate conventions. If conventional institutions such as family, school, church, and government fail to adequately provide social norms to a young impressionable person other institutions will. Organized crime groups and gangs will provide a substantial support system for members of a socially disorganized community. Once a gang infiltrates a disorganized community the effect can be drastic and long lasting. The gang’s criminality is subsequently passed from generation to generation.
Due to socialization with criminal groups, young people are further motivated to deviate from cultural norms and accept the criminal traditions. Consequently, the neighbourhood becomes tightknit and remains silent and is afraid to have any opposition to the new cultural prescribed norm of the community. Conversely, middle-class areas are not exposed to delinquent traditions. Also, youth is adequately controlled by a parent in a steady environment. The environment a person is exposed to largely dictates if an individual will join an organized crime group.
Differential Association Theory Differential association theory is one theoretical perspective to further understand why Gang membership occurs. The proposition of differential association theory is that criminal behaviour like many other skills is learned (—). The behaviour that is learned by prospective members of a criminal organization occurs through interaction with other members of the group through communication (—). The criminal organization helps teach through tutelage and by example.
For instance, when a person decided to join the Mafia they would follow real mobsters and learned how to become a mobster themselves (—). The principle part of the learning of criminal behaviour occurs within intimate personal groups (—). The personal groups involved are friends, family, peers, and personal companions. As social disorganization theory explained, institutions exist to teach norms and values. However, once these institutions fail other non-traditional institutions arise. The issue that occurs is criminal organizations can fill in the vacuum.
For example, in areas of lower social economic status gangs may become a predominant figure. Unfortunately, when a criminal organization exists many of the people in that community will be associated with the organization. Consequently, an individual will interact with associates and members of criminal organizations and inevitably learned criminal behaviour. Once learned specific directions of deviant attitudes are learned to justify actions. A new mindset begins to be adopted which helps to rationalize unacceptable criminal behaviour as acceptable.
New motives, drives, rationalizations, and attitudes are developed. Gang members may justify their deviant acts as acceptable because they have not been given the means to achieve success legitimately. The dominant basis for the differential association is the understanding an individual develops towards laws. Specific directions of motives and drives are learned from definitions that are favourable or unfavourable towards the law. A person gains knowledge from gang members in regards to what laws are worthy to follow and which are deserving and permissible to violate.
More precisely, normative conflict refers to conflict over the appropriateness of the law: some groups define the law as a set of rules to be followed under virtually all circumstances, while others define the law as a set of rules to be violated under certain circumstances. Once in a gang, a person becomes more delinquent because of the excess of definitions that are favourable to the violation of the law. The differential association can drastically vary depending on frequency, duration, intensity, and priority. As mention, communities that are disorganised are likely to develop more criminogenic groups.
The increase of criminal groups will directly influence the amount of exposure community members to have with criminal organizations. Moreover, intensity refers to how respected or prestigious the source and the emotional reactions related to the association. When a criminal organization such as the Mafia infiltrate a community they can be viewed as a respectable group which further pushes people towards associating with the organization. Differential association in essences states that criminal behaviour is learned through exposure to criminals.
The most principal being that if an individual is exposed to more social acceptance of deviance that they are exposed to the opposition of deviance, that individual is more apt to function defiantly. Strain Theory Strain theory is a macro-level theory that can assist in illustrating the larger societal causes of gang membership. Strain theory places much of the onus for criminal acts in society on the society’s culture. North American culture places a large emphasis on monetary success. The values that are dominant encourage individuals to become wealthy and successful.
However, many people in particular to the lower classes cannot achieve the prescribed norms. Moreover, North American society fails to regulate behaviour. There exists a low emphasis on legitimately achieving societal norms. When an individual is exposed to the strain they experience anomie. Anomie is when a state of normlessness occurs. An individual may have little money and no success. However, society pushes that particular individual to attain wealth and attain the elusive America dream. Under societal strain and anomie, the individual well seek methods to attain the goals.
With a “whatever means necessary” attitude that existent in North American, anything becomes acceptable. To cope with the pressures of societal goals some may pursue illegitimate methods to attain wealth. Research shows that gangs can compensate for strain by providing illegitimate means to achieve goals due to a shortcoming in employment and education (Klemp-North, 2007). Gang membership helps to relieve the anomie or normlessness an individual may experience. How gangs help to relieve strain and anomie is most prominently seen in the early 20th century when Italian immigrants first arrived in America.
Many early migrants were forced to work hard laborious jobs that gave little money or respect. Discovering that legitimate method to wealth and success did not exist early migrants from gangs to achieve their own version of the American dream. Illegitimate channels were pursued instead involving criminal acts such as theft, drugs, bootlegging, and prostitution, etc. essentially the determining factor that encourages gang membership is social and economic deprivation. Individuals realize that they are living in poverty in the midst of plenty, and decide to attain the same wealth as those around them.
Control Theories Control theories do not see the human as blanks slates onto which society writes its script. Instead, control theory argues that it is human nature to break the law. Like other animals humans pursue gratification. As one can imagine a youth growing up in the poor inner city will want to pursue a better life. As mentioned, earlier legitimate methods are not always available. Instead, crime becomes an easier means to secure gratification. Control theorists contend that society exerts control over individuals which is why people desist from crime.
However, in a socially disorganized community that has weak bonds with members of the community. Weak or broken bonds to society can lead to criminality. Alienation from, the surrounding social institutions can have severe consequences. Variations in the level of control that can be exerted over an individual by society explain why someone may or may not pursue joining a gang.
Specifically, Hirschi identifies four elements of the bond between the individual and society 1) attachment (defined as involvement with others. 2) Commitment (defined investment of personal resources in legitimate goals). ) Involvement (defined as involvement in conventional activities). 4) belief (defined as acceptance of social values). The likelihood of delinquency is inversely proportional to the strength of these four elements (Hirschi, 1971: 16). When control theory is applied to the mafia the argument would be that people become mobsters because as children they were cut off from the most important socializing institutions and, as a result, failed to develop the required discipline and habits that are distinguishing characteristic of a law abiding citizen.
Gangs and the Mafia, in particular, are a result of weak communities. Memoirs To develop a better understanding of why individuals peruse gang membership the memoirs of gang members will be analyzed. The memoirs will provide quotes from former mafia members as to why they joined the Mafia. The memoirs will illustrate that the three schools of thoughts presented provide the best explanation that theoretically exists to explain why an individual would pursue membership in the Mafia. Henry Hill is a former associate of the Lucchese family in New York.
Henry describes his neighbourhood as one that “the kind of neighbourhood that cheered successful mobsters the way West Point cheered victorious general” (—). Henry Hill Further describes that New York wise guys were accepted and protected by the neighbourhood and many kids grew up idolizing the local wise guy and aspired to be a wise guy. Henry even says “to me being a wise guy was better than being the President of the United States”(—). Henry’s life correlates with differential association theory. Henry was exposed to criminals at a young age.
Living in the same community as wise guy allowed Henry to come into frequent association with a gangster. Consequently, through interaction with anti-social peers, the criminal behaviour Henry witnessed was adopted by him. Moreover, Henry demonstrates that the deviant criminal behaviour was accepted by his community which directly exposed him to the definition that was favourable to criminal activity. The impact of differential peer association on delinquent behaviour is among the most fully sustained findings in criminology.
Those association that occurred early in Henry’s life (priority), last longer and occupy more of one’s time (Duration, take place most often (Frequency), and involve others whom one has more important relationships (intensity) have greater effect of behaviour. Essentially Henry began to associate with the gangsters in his neighbourhood because of the respect they were receiving and no one prevented his association as their action were not seen as deviant allowing Henry to adopt the social norms of the Mafia and become a member.
Conclusion Gangs can be highly organized and have detrimental economic costs to society. As such, it is crucial to understand why people join gangs. The three theoretical school of thought presented effectively provide a better understanding of the underlying causes to gang membership. Social disorganization demonstrates the importance of legitimate social institutions in a community. A lack of institutions can result in criminal institutions providing socialization which results in an acceptance of criminal norms.
Differential association theory essentially proves the saying that “birds of the same feather flock together”. Once a community is disorganized and criminal elements infiltrate members of the community are exposed to members and begin to associate with them as their peers. Consequently, the knowledge and skills of mobsters are adopted and deviance becomes accepted. Moreover, strain theory provides evidence that many also seek gang membership for financial benefit. Societal demands place pressure on individual to attain wealth and when legitimate means are inaccessible illegitimate means are utilized.
Lastly, control theory illustrates weak communities provide weak control methods resulting in the inability to prevent criminality. The theoretical schools of thought are also expressed by former mobsters in their memoirs with researchers. Gangs are able to continually infiltrate communities and recruit members because of broken and poor communities that do not have weak social institutions for socialization ad control and because of societal strain for financial success.