Gang membership has been labeled a snare in the life-course. Research has established gang members have greater odds of participating in crime, especially violent crime, and have a greater risk of violent victimization. Additionally, due to the criminogenic nature of gangs, gang members are often disconnected from prosocial peers and institutions. As such, gang members tend to be involved in the criminal justice system longer. Yet, what remains to be unclear is the role of personal networks on the criminal trajectories of gang members. The social structures individuals are embedded in are influential on their behaviors. A key criminological finding is the influence of peers on deviant behaviors. Gangs are first and foremost social groups made up of interconnected members. Therefore, ignoring the social world members embed themselves in, we are missing pieces of information to answer key questions regarding gang membership. In this dissertation, the personal networks of gang members are examined in order to determine whether the size and structure of their networks influence their criminal trajectories. Gang membership brings with it more opportunities to participate in criminal activities, co-offenders, and a "brotherhood". As a result, there should be an increase in social capital associated with gang membership. Social capital is the resources obtained through social relations. The more social capital gang members have access to, the more advantageous their position within the network. Results revealed during active periods of gang membership, gang members' networks did have a significant increase in social capital. How members built their networks was related to the length of their gang careers. In addition, by using networks, this dissertation moves beyond the gang label and examines how being embedded within a prison gang may influence the criminal careers of non-gang associates. It was found proximity to prison gang members increased the criminal career length for non-gang associates. Further, network measures were found to have a greater impact on the length of criminal careers than the label of gang member. These results were used to conceptually develop and propose a social capital theory of gang membership.
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Thesis advisor: Bouchard, Martin
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