The Australian Institute of Criminology has recently published a study about the importance of cultural authority and family support in preventing youths from becoming involved with gangs. The research focuses on the Wadeye community which is one of the largest Indigenous communities in the Northern Territory.

The Wadeye community has gained a reputation as one of the most violent areas and has been the focus of much attention from the media mainly due to the fact that a lot of the violence is being caused by gang activities in the area. The study covers how gangs operate in this particular community so that some insights can be obtained as to how the individual gang members see their communities and the authority figures within their communities.

The results of the research has indicated that the criminal activities that gang members are asked to participate in are often not as important as the bonds that are built with gang leaders and also other gang members which often serve as a replacement for relationships with non-gang member family members and community leaders.

Another factor is that criminal activities performed while in the gang are also not as important as allowing the gang member individual to gain a sense of identity and to also allow the gang member a potential opportunity to act as a leader.

As of today there are 14 different gangs that have operations within the Wadeye community and the majority of the gang members are youths and range in age starting very young at about seven years old to about 25 years old. Only a small percentage of gang members were older than 25. With the older ones that were older than 25 years old a lot of them were no longer involved with the gangs actively but instead were now taking on a different role as trying to help the community and on trying to aid other youths that were still involved with the gangs with turning their lives around for the better.

It was also noted in this study as to the causes of the young adults joining gangs. An earlier study notes that young adults typically become involved with gangs as the results of existing social problems within the community and are not actually the initial cause of the social problems due to their criminal acts.

The results of this study came from interviewing prisoners about their relationships with the gangs and a survey was also done by interviewing local community members that had been involved with helping people in the community for some time. The data will be used to help develop initiatives in the community to figure out how to end the cycle of youths becoming involved in gang life so that they can instead go on to lead productive lives instead of continuing to cause harm to the community.

Plans include helping local elders and other mentors to lead positive activities that can deter youths from trying to join gangs as this method is much less costly than the damage caused by youth incarcerations.

Link: http://www.aic.gov.au/publications/current%20series/tandi/441-460/tandi457.html

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