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Youth Gangs and Drug Distribution: A Preliminary Enquiry

NCJ Number
P Reuter
Date Published
26 pages
This paper examines the assets brought by youth gangs to illicit drug distribution and how their involvement in these trades affects their behavior; the focus is on cocaine dealing.
Youth gangs -- defined here as groups of adolescents, but possibly including some young adults, who band together to pursue various activities, at least some of which are criminal -- were not significantly involved in other mass illegal activities such as bootlegging, illegal gambling, or prostitution because their members usually lacked the necessary organization, marketing, and management skills. However, the characteristics of retail drug distribution, especially crack cocaine -- purely brokerage, homogenous product, a goods-only business, and a youthful clientele -- lent themselves to youth gang participation. The youth gangs' assets, including non-economic loyalty, violence, and geographic ties, make them suitable to function in particular niches of the drug business. However, personal and organizational instability would probably make them ineffective as high-level wholesalers. Gang involvement in drug trafficking varies between cities. Los Angeles has a large number of gangs and high levels of gang violence associated with drug distribution. Washington, DC, with no significant youth gangs, reports extensive violence around the drug trade as well as heavy recruitment of young drug distributors. Current data precludes assessment of the effect of youth gang involvement, whether gangs increase the level of drug use, and how the drug trades effect the power of gangs. 22 notes, 21 references.