Life is often full of obstacles that make growing up a difficult road to navigate for at-risk youth. From poverty and physical abuse to drug and alcohol use, teens frequently run into issues that they are still mentally ill-equipped to handle. These experiences can leave them feeling isolated. Inevitably, juveniles end up trying to find acceptance anywhere they can find it. It is in these situations that they can fall prey to the influence of gangs.
What Influences Juvenile Gang Involvement?
Prison officials believe that incarceration is a catalyst for justice-involved youth to become members of a gang. In the United States, about two percent of the general population are active gang members. Now, picture forty-seven percent of incarcerated teens as gang members.
Youths join gangs for several different reasons. One being, a juvenile's feeling of not having a place to belong. Teens that feel they have little control over their lives often find the power that gangs hold over their communities to be appealing. They see the respect that gang members expect from the neighborhood, and desire that for themselves. Additionally, juveniles that have issues being bullied look to them for protection. The youth perceives the gang’s close-knit community as a way to have a support system that their biological families have been either unable or unwilling to provide them.
Lastly, money, of course, is a consideration for some youth as well. In communities where there are few economic opportunities for teens to look forward to as adults, the flashy lifestyle of high-ranking gang members can seem attractive. The moral objections to participating in the unsavory business of gangs - from dealing drugs to running prostitution and gambling rings - can seem like minor problems when faced with the possibility of being financially secure when so many around them are not.
Gang Life in Juvenile Detention
Gang affiliation is something that administrators and officers alike must take into account when placing juveniles within their facilities. Many jurisdictions across the U.S. have added gang-affiliation questions to their in-processing forms to try and prevent internal violence between different groups. For Nashville’s Youth Opportunity Investments, which runs the area’s juvenile detention center, asking about a juvenile’s gang membership when they enter detention is something that is vital to the safety of their facility. "We have to, as program administrators, talk to those youth about placement to make sure we place them in the correct living unit," says Dallas Scott, the Vice President of Programs. "So, if they're with a rivalry gang, so to speak, we make sure not to place those youth in harm's way."
With nearly nine in ten juvenile detention centers reporting having active gang members among their incarcerated youth, gang membership is a worrisome issue for both facilities and neighborhoods. Prevention before group membership starts is the best course of action for communities to take; by doing so, a society can also likely reduce the number of juveniles that end up in jails each year.
How Correctional Officer Training Can Help
Orbis Partners provides a variety of different products and services for juvenile and criminal justice systems. One being an evidence-based officer training that can help correction employees better serve the at-risk youth they are supervising. The basic training works with agencies in community and facility settings to implement evidence-based training for new staff. Organizations can identify their own topics or choose from a menu of available resources ranging from officer safety and well-being to managing complex and difficult client behaviors.
The goal of the correctional officer training program is to translate the available research and ensure that staff is provided with useful information and practical skills that contribute to positive outcomes with justice-involved clients.
Orbis Partners provides solutions for criminal justice and human services systems, specializing in designing and implementing services for at-risk client groups. Orbis’ risk/needs and strengths assessment tools for youth are designed to guide the casework process by incorporating an individual’s unique set of needs. For more information about Officer Training, visit our page by clicking here.