Why Rapid Youth Gang Growth is Taking Place at Suburban Areas

In 1999, Howell & Decker reviewed and analyzed numerous gang studies to establish the connection of youth gangs, drugs and violence. They cited several researchers who suggested some explanations on the sudden burst of youth gangs in the suburbs in the 1990s. First, the economic transformation of the U. S. from a manufacturing economy in the 1970s to a technological and service economy in the 1990s led major economic activities away from the cities to the suburbs. Second, the emergence of the cheaper crack as a replacement to cocaine led to wider drug use.

Finally and third, violence appears to be self-expressions of antisocial behavior and influence a gang member’s individual status and roles as gang members. According to Howell & Decker, the first explanation suggests that the decline in job opportunities in manufacturing cities led to many gangsters’ venture into the drug business. As gangsters expanded into lucrative suburban areas, these migrations led to new groups. Moreover, drug-using ex-convicts also founded new gangs in suburban areas when they leave prison due to lack of marketable job skills.

However, Howell & Decker pointed out that evidence to support this media and investigatory agency stereotype is limited. Howell & Decker also explored the second issue explaining that due to the wider availability of crack, youth gang populations have likewise increased hence, the spread to the suburbs. Their analysis suggested that: “Gang members are more likely than non-gang youth to be involved in drug trafficking and violence” (Howell & Decker, 1999). More conclusively, Howell & Decker explained that violence appear to be a stronger explanation.

Media sensationalism, a violent environment, identity crisis resulting in group differentiation via violence, and the desire for better status and roles among suburban youth likely led to this rapid growth. Also, turf, retaliation and defense aggravated the situation.


Howell, J. C. and Decker, S. H. (1999). “The Youth Gangs, Drugs, and Violence Connection. ” OJJDP Juvenile Justice Bulletin. Washington, DC: U. S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. Retrieved June 30, 2007, from http://www. ncjrs. gov/pdffiles1/93920. pdf