Street gangs: tell me who you hang out with...



Juvenile delinquency and street gang activity are all the more worrisome in that there is no clear understanding of the factors that push some young people towards a life of crime.

Carlo Morselli, director of the Centre international de criminologie comparée and a professor at the School of Criminology at Université de Montréal, conducted a study involving 240 youth aged 14 to 24, through organizations working with adolescents and young adults in the Montréal region, Laval, Montréal's South Shore and Québec City. More than 64% of the youth surveyed admit to having committed at least one offense in the last twelve months (shoplifting, selling drugs, violence, etc.) and 11.3% claim that they have been or are members of a street gang.

Social network delinquency is the variable with the strongest influence on youth participation in crime.

To better understand this phenomenon, Morselli concentrated his research on the role of the social network in youth involvement in delinquent behaviour. The study shows that, on average, 17% of the members of a youth's social network have committed or commit crimes. Unlike previous research on the subject, Professeur Morselli looked not only at delinquent youth in the young person's entourage, but at the whole of their social network.

The study indicates that social network delinquency is the variable with the strongest influence on youth participation in crime. At the same time, we mustn't believe that young people engage in delinquent behaviour simply because they are attracted to the lifestyle offered by the young delinquents in their social network. On the contrary, it is when their relationships with non-delinquent peers do not provide enough opportunities to give and receive support and to show confidence and respect that they become more vulnerable to the temptation of crime.

The results of this study have been the topic of two discussion groups with youth centre community workers in view of putting them into practice in youth intervention.