Wins National Research Award
Greta Petry (September 12,
recent book by University at Albany professor Terence Thornberry
and his colleagues, Gangs
and Delinquency in Developmental Perspective (Cambridge
University Press), has won the American Society of Criminology’s
2003 Michael J. Hindelang Award for the most outstanding contribution
to research in criminology.
a distinguished professor of criminal justice and director
of the Hindelang Criminal Justice Research Center, has directed
the Rochester Youth Development Study (RYDS) since its inception
in 1986. His co-authors are: Marvin Krohn, professor of sociology
with a joint appointment in the School of Criminal Justice,
and the author of many articles on adolescent delinquency,
drug use, gangs, and gun use; Alan Lizotte, professor of criminal
justice and a nationally known expert on patterns of gun ownership
and the impact of guns on criminal behavior; Carolyn Smith,
an associate professor of social welfare who studies the impact
of the family, including parental abuse and maltreatment,
on teen development; and Kimberly Tobin, an assistant professor
of criminal justice at Westfield State College, who earned
her Ph.D. in sociology from UAlbany.
to the authors, being a member of a gang is not a lifelong
choice, as it was for the Jets in the classic play “West Side
Story,” but more likely to be a brief stint in adolescence
that leads to dramatic increases in delinquency, gun use,
and violent crime. And while members may not be “a Jet all
the way” for life, joining for even a year may have far-reaching
consequences when it comes to making life choices like graduating
from high school, getting a job, and delaying having a child
study on which the book is based, the RYDS, is unique for
several reasons. Instead of being the traditional “snapshot”
of gang members at a certain age, the research selected 1,000
seventh and eighth graders in the Rochester public schools
in 1988, and tracked them to the present. The research began
before any of the students had joined a gang. Eventually 30.9
percent of them did. “While representing only a third of the
sample, gang members are responsible for about two-thirds
of the delinquencies, a disparity that becomes even larger
for more serious and violent offenses” (p. 183). Most of those
who did join were members for about a year, and gang membership
was most common between grades
8 and 10.
original young people in the study are now 28 years old. They
are being studied again to see how they have fared in school,
at work, and in marriage and/or raising a family.
results reveal significant negative consequences of gang membership,
which disrupts development in early adolescence. “For the
male subjects, stable gang members are more apt than the nonmembers
to be high school dropouts, to impregnate a girl at an early
age, to be teen fathers, to cohabit, to have unstable employment
patterns, and to have multiple disorderly transitions” (p.
186). The pattern of early parenthood, unstable employment,
and problems adjusting to adult transitions extended to female
age 30 the subjects will be interviewed again. Krohn noted
researchers are also interviewing the oldest child of the
original participants. The Rochester study is one of the few
to examine “the ripple effect of gang membership on succeeding
generations,” he said.
parents of the 1988 seventh and eighth graders also participated,
the study will eventually represent three generations of the
original urban cohort of randomly selected youth.
Since the study tracks its subjects across time, it provides
evidence of a depth not ordinarily available. Thornberry said,
“One of the things that prior research could not tell us was
whether teens were violent because they were in gangs, or
whether they were violent individuals who just happened to
join gangs.” The answer: “The research shows clearly that
delinquent behavior and violent behavior only increase with
active gang membership. There is something about joining gangs
that increases serious violent behavior.”
added: “It is the same with illegal gun use – gun use goes
up dramatically when adolescents join gangs. You don’t have
to own a gun to use one; you can borrow or rent one. The gang
membership provides access you wouldn’t ordinarily have.”
study changes accepted notions about gender and gangs. Smith
said: “The perception in the past was that girls in gangs
either acted as accessories, or were on the periphery of activity.
In fact, we find that girls in gangs behave similarly to boys
and girls in the Rochester study joined gangs with almost
equal frequency. Tobin pointed out, “Just over 30 percent
of the boys and just under 30 percent of the girls had been
gang members at some point during adolescence.”
boys and girls in the study were assessed on about 40 risk
factors, including drug use, whether parents expected their
child to go to college, and socioeconomic status. Smith said
those with multiple risk factors across many areas were more
likely to join a gang. Boys who had fewer than 10 risk factors
that were measured did not join at all; yet of those who had
21 or more of the risk factors, 43.5 percent joined.
of the risk factors that predicted joining a gang included
early dating and sexual activity (boys who were already sexually
active joined a gang to meet or impress girls); doing poorly
in school; living in a dangerous neighborhood; using drugs;
and poverty. However, when asked why they joined, members
described a side of gang membership that was glamorous to
them. “While gangs can be a violent and volatile environment,
they are also a source of adolescent pleasure. The gang is
often where the action is, a ready source of drugs, parties,
dating and sexual partners, and risk-taking behaviors (p.
93).” The need for protection was cited as another reason
conclusion suggested by these findings and by other studies
of gang intervention that may be of interest to the criminal
justice community is that prevention programs that work directly
with the gang as a group have no demonstrated positive effect.
In fact, they appear to give the gang a setting in which to
become more cohesive and aggressive.
directed at the gang environment should go very slowly in
direct intervention,” Thornberry said. “A more sensible approach
is the indirect model. Family and school intervention can
be effective.” For example, Multisystemic Treatment (MST),
an intervention method developed by Scott Henggeler for serious
delinquents ages 15-17, has demonstrated effectiveness.
RYDS has been supported by the Office of Juvenile Justice
and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) in the U.S. Depart ment
of Justice, the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the National
Institute of Mental Health, and the National Science Foundation.
The ASC award will be presented November 19 at the annual
meeting of the society in Denver, Colo.