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Gangs in America have formed the subject of a large number of research works, thereby becoming a growth sector (Sanchez-Jankowski, 2003). The definition of the term ‘gangs’ is: an ongoing informal or formal group, party, or alliance of at least three individuals whose primary activities include perpetrating at least one of the crimes listed below: 1) attacking using a lethal weapon, 2) murder, 3) burglary, 4) selling or holding in possession for production, selling, offering for sale, transporting, or offering to produce controlled substances, 5) arson, 6) shooting at any occupied automobile or inhabited house, 7) intimidating victims and witnesses, and 8) carrying out a grand robbery of a vehicle, vessel, or trailer, in addition to sharing a common sign, symbol, or name, whose members have separately or, as a group, previously or currently participated in some pattern of hang crime (California Department of Justice, 1993).

Classification of Gangs

Depending on structural elements like size, age, ethnicities, sex, criminality, lifespan, and territoriality, besides conditions of origin, evolution, goals, and modus operandi, the classifications described below exist:

1. Scavenger (short-lived) gangs. Such gangs, commonly constituted of 15 to 40 males, seldom accept female members. Ethnically-heterogeneous, the members of such a gang will largely be teenagers (between 13 and 18 years of age). Territoriality includes their neighborhood and secondary school. The offenses generally perpetrated by such gangs include fights with similar rival gangs in the neighborhood or outside of the school campus, bullying, blackmail, and other generally minor crimes around or within the school and neighborhood. While they do respect their leader, there is no explicit, consolidated structure or organization for the commission of their activities. Frequently, they engage in spur-of-the-moment reactions to attacks on the part of rival gangs or ordered directly by their leader. While their reason of formation is not the commission of the crime, doing so typically ends up earning them “prestige.” They also participate in social activities like movies, dancing, or sport (mostly basketball or football). While they’re independent of other gangs, they can change into some other kind of gang.

2. Transgressor gangs. Such 40-80 member-strong gangs are expressly organized without any vicious purposes. While membership is mostly male, females are also allowed. Ethnically-heterogeneous, such gangs largely constitute African-American and Latin American individuals. They resort to violence for controlling the territories they believe are theirs. They engage in crime within as well as outside their territory and plan activities for perpetrating offenses and fighting or seeking retribution against rivals. They have a set of rules, standards, initiation rituals, and a ranking. They use/abuse drugs, bear weapons, and might proceed to engage in more complex crime. Such gangs “naturally” form from groups surviving on the streets (mostly street children who have left their families or will do so soon).

3. Violent gangs. Such gangs are organized expressly to perpetrate violence. Composed of largely African-Americans, Asians, and Latin Americans, they have roughly 100 to 500 members. They typically engage in murders and originate from a setting similar to teen gangs, though they are more evolved in that they perpetrate more complex offenses. They may be viewed as a sort of continuation of teen gangs that stuck together, structuring their territory, and consolidating their organization. They might fashion a new name for themselves, or use the name of some other gang, becoming a part of their circle. Street gangs whose members stay on and remain alive through the years evolve and form “criminal gangs.” (Department of Public Security, 2007).

The gang classifications described above demonstrate that community gangs mostly exist within urban neighborhoods. They have nothing to do when it comes to safety or public security; instead, the issue with these gangs is mostly linked to human rights or the socioeconomic context. They are related to young adults, though some are involved in “maras” or violent gangs. They rise out of marginalization and poverty and find an absence of opportunities in the community, government, and market. Their origins lie in youngsters belonging to dysfunctional households who seek protection, influence, and a sense of identity and belonging. There is clear male domination in these groups, with the male-female membership ratio spanning anywhere between 2.5 – 1 and 9 – 1. While ethnically-heterogeneous in nature, members are mostly of African-American and Latin American descent as opposed to white Anglo-Saxons. Members of these gangs are involved in several national homicides, drug trade, human trafficking, arms trade, and other such offenses linked to organized criminal activities.


The issues that I faced when applying the above classification to data were related to gender perspective and a rights-based approach. About the latter, an intriguing point to consider is, the issue hasn’t been perceived or studied carefully. Various interpretations exist, indicating that teens and younger children with gang links seek “compensatory” rights to survive, participate, and protect themselves, the irony being that in several instances, this only ends up leading to a violation of their rights. In the present day, methodological issues continue plaguing several reports of female gang involvement, particularly so when it comes to female gangs. Considering that female gang numbers and scope aren’t so significant if one takes into account the overall issue of gangs. Unfortunately, little attention has been given to them within the context of care, prevention, and rehabilitation interventions (Department of Public Security, 2007).


California Department of Justice. (1993). Gangs 2000: A call to action. Sacramento, California: Department of Justice.

Department of Public Security. (2007). Definition and classification of gangs: Executive summary. Washington, DC: Organization of American States.

Sanchez-Jankowski, M. (2003). Gangs and social change. Theoretical Criminology, 7(2), 191-216. DOI: 10.1177/1362480603007002413.