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From getting in to getting out: The role of pre-gang context and group processes in analyzing turning points in gang trajectories

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Thesis type
(Dissertation) Ph.D.
Date created
Drawing from a mixed-methods approach, the current dissertation examines the sequential process of gang membership, from gang entry to gang disengagement. The dissertation is driven by three interrelated aims. First, the study aims to assess whether variations in opportunities for membership and the nature of gang entry are related to pre-membership factors. Second, it aims to investigate whether gangs’ organizational structures and group processes are associated with the nature of their criminal opportunities. Third, it explores the relationship of both individual and group factors to the disengagement process. The study uses retrospective self-reported and official data gathered from a sample of 73 gang members involved in the Study on Incarcerated Serious and Violent Young Offender in Burnaby, British Columbia. Results suggest that being embedded in a criminal social environment facilitates early entry into gangs but not avoidance of an initiation in gangs that require them. A need for recognition and respect is associated with late entry and the occurrence of an initiation. A closer look into the initiation events described by participants revealed three general types: (1) the ego violent event, (2) the crime commission, and (3) the expressive violence towards others. An ego violent initiation was more frequent among younger prospective members and those who were coerced into joining. Individuals who were looking for respect were more likely to be required to perpetrate an act of violence toward someone in order to get in. No individual characteristics were associated with crime commission type. In terms of group characteristics, nature of initiation is not associated with any type of gang organizational structure: both organized and less organized gangs may initiate their members and do so in similar ways. Type of initiation, however, was found to reflect the nature of the criminal activities of the gangs. In terms of gang desistance, internal gang violence and pre-membership criminal social environment both facilitated the persistence of membership and delay in disengagement from gangs. The dissertation addresses the theoretical and policy implications of such findings.
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Scholarly level
Supervisor or Senior Supervisor
Thesis advisor: Corrado, Raymond
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