Gang initiation refers to the rite of passage of the gang recruit in order to become a full-fledge member of the gang. Initiation rites often vary from one gang to another, and often it is designed to uphold the values and goals of the gang. For example, a delinquent gang may ask their wannabes to engage in a major delinquent behavior before they are accepted into the gang. The gang initiation rites may include drinking alcoholic beverages, using illegal drugs, fighting with other members who are bigger and better than they are, or harming a member of a rival gang or even a police officer (Spergel, 1990).
In another study, it was reported that burning or tattooing are initiation rites, wherein the prospective member is said to exhibit endurance, strength and bravery that will prove to the core group that they are dedicated and can endure pain for the group (Hill, et al. , 2004). Gang Membership Gang membership is complex in the sense that it is caused by a number of reasons and motivation, moreover, there are also varying degrees of membership which is often dictated by the type and rules of the gang.
Research have found that youths join gangs for a number of reasons (Hill, Howell & Hawkins, 1996), but the proclivity to join gangs is predicted by the experience of the child or person of antisocial behavior. A teenager residing in a neighborhood wherein there is a strong presence of youth gangs or is known for having delinquent offenders would be more prone to join gangs. Moreover, if family members or relatives belong to a gang, more likely than not, the child also becomes a gang member.
On the other hand, teens that perform poorly in school, associate with the wrong kind of peers, and have exhibited problem behaviors early gravitate towards gangs. Furthermore, it was also found that those children who had early experiences with violence, show aggression, inattentiveness and hostility or those that are socially maladjusted stay longer with gangs than those who are not (Klein, 1995).
Antisocial youth gang membership had increased quickly in the country, it has been estimated in 1998 that almost 650,000 are members of gangs (Howell, 1998). The marked increase in gang membership is alarming in the sense that presence of antisocial gangs in neighborhoods is directly related to the public health of the country (Fagan, 1990). This is because, gang members exhibit more antisocial behavior that threatens the welfare of others and exposes the gang member to injury, incarceration, and death (Esbensen & Huizinga, 1993).
According to studies conducted by a number of researchers (Curry & Spergel, 1992; Fagan, 1996), gang membership is more frequent in neighborhoods wherein gangs are highly visible and in neighborhood that have higher or an increase in crime rates and the accessibility of illegal drugs. It has also been found that gang members come from lower socioeconomic status, single parent families, and punitive discipline without supervision (Winfree et al. , 1994). Gang members are also more likely to have delinquent friends in their circle, and to attend school with other group members (Curry & Spergel, 1992).
In the Denver Youth Study (Esbensen, Huizinga, & Weiher, 1993) youths from ages 7-15 who come from neighborhood with high crime rates were interviewed in the first wave of interviews wherein the study was designed to include four waves of interviews following the progress of the identified youth in the study. The study employed the definition of youth gangs by Spergel (1990) wherein gang membership was self-reported by the gang members themselves and it was found that the respondents committed majority of the violent offenses of the gang, moreover, they were also responsible for serious thefts and drug sale.
It was also found that gang members even before they became gang members had already been involved in antisocial behavior and drug use. In the Rochester Youth Development Study (Thornberry et al. , 1993), youths who were residents of high-crime rate neighborhoods and those who were currently in the 7th and 8th grade in public schools were also interviewed in the first wave. In this study, gang membership was limited to boys or male members because female members were very few.
The definition of gang in this study was extended to include groups which were not engaging in antisocial behavior but was identified by its members as gangs. It was reported that almost 80% of violent crimes, 90% of serious delinquent acts, and 73% of the sale of illegal drugs were committed by gang members. It was also found that there was no difference in the antisocial behavior of members before entering the gang to those who had never entered a gang. Moreover, it was also found that associating with delinquent peers, low parental supervision, and the availability of drug all contributed to gang membership.
In the Seattle Social Development Project (Hill, Howell, & Hawkins, 1996), 800 youths were tracked from middle school to early adulthood. The research reports that youths who were more likely to join gangs were African American children or youth than Hispanics and Whites. Most gang members also come from high drug rate neighborhoods and from families that have underwent a number of family structure changes. Moreover, those who had antisocial behavior, hyperactivity, and associating with delinquent peers before gang membership predicted gang entry.