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Contemporary Gangs: An Organizational Analysis

NCJ Number
Date Published
January 2002
232 pages
This study attempted to develop an understanding of the growth of contemporary gangs, with implications for estimating the population or eventual organizational density, mass, and size distribution of gangs through extensive research in the field of organizational theory, especially population ecology.
Despite some important research on gangs, much is unknown about these criminal organizations. To develop a conceptual model of gang evolution and growth, research is needed on the population of gangs and the organizational dynamics which affect gang prevalence, organizational density, and mass. This study attempted to answer key research questions: (1) should gangs be considered groups, informal or formal organizations, what organizational features distinguish between these different forms of social organization, and how do these contribute in understanding the dynamics of contemporary gangs; (2) what organizational theories explain or contribute to understanding the form or structure and size of gangs; and (3) do organizational theories provide a relevant framework for describing and explaining the structure of successful gangs and what is the promise of such theories for explaining and predicting the growth and expansion of gangs? The study was divided into four significant chapters. The first describes the criminological literature related to crime and delinquency and the range of related organizational theory literature. The next chapter describes the research methodology and design of the study with its limitations. The third chapter details findings from interviews with gang members from four gangs in Chicago and San Diego and analyzes how these data conform or differ from ideas of rising gang prevalence. The final chapter is a discussion of the significant findings and presents directions for future research. The four large and mature criminal gangs studied appeared relatively disorganized, rules were present but not adhered to, meetings occurred but irregularly and informally, leadership was ephemeral, and role specialization was minimal. However, despite these features, these gangs could be characterized as formal organizations. Many gangs, including those studied, can be described as organic-adaptive rather than bureaucratic or hierarchal organizations. The study reinforced the idea that the perceived growth in gangs might be limited primarily to expanding membership of existing gangs, rather than the start-up of new gangs or spin offs from older gangs. Directions for future research suggest an examination of population dynamics and documenting patterns of organizational change, a study on the population of gangs within cities to learn more about how these organizations rise and decline, and an examination of the organizational development of gangs within or across populations to enhance the understanding of contemporary gangs. Appendix and references

Date Published: January 1, 2002