This study examined the attitudes and orientations of gang and non-gang eighth-grade students living in two southwestern cities with large pluralities of Mexican-Americans, Phoenix, AZ and Las Cruces, NM.
Although Phoenix clearly had more volume and per capita rates of crime than Las Cruces, Phoenix students did not seem to be more gang-involved than their peers in Las Cruces after accounting for the attitudes and orientations of the students. The youth-gang members in the two cities were apparently at different stages of gang development. Gang membership in Las Cruces is related to reinforcers, in addition to pro-gang attitudes, delinquent peers, and chronological age. In Phoenix, being older, male, and having both pro-gang attitudes and delinquent peers was associated with gang membership; however, those who associated gangs with punishers tended not to be in gangs. Gangs in Las Cruces were less well-developed, newer organizations with a highly fluid membership; whereas, gangs in Phoenix's inner city were well-established and intergenerational. Gang membership in Las Cruces, therefore, depended on positive reinforcers for the establishment of discriminative stimuli; in Phoenix, on the other hand, non-gang members responded more to negative reinforcers as reasons not to join gangs. In addition, in Las Cruces, the middle schools studied only served students in grades six, seven, and eight. In Phoenix, the schools had students in grades kindergarten through eighth grade. Differences in gang development and school structure may be factors that influence the risk for gang membership. The authors suggest that perhaps younger, more impressionable youth, i.e., those in kindergarten through sixth grade, should be schooled separately from older youth who are more likely to be involved in general misbehavior, gang recruitment, and delinquency. Future researchers should consider variations among children in various age groups as they join or leave gangs and engage in delinquent behaviors. 3 tables and 32 references
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Earlier versions of this work were presented at the annual meeting of the Western Social Science Association, Reno, NV, April 17-20, 1996, and at the annual meeting of the Law and Society Association, Scotland, June 10-14, 1996.