Although at-risk youths may have a variety of reasons for joining street gangs, a new study suggests that gang membership and criminal acts often serve as deviant leisure activities, fulfilling young people’s needs for excitement, a sense of belonging and social support.
Based on interviews with 30 former street gang members in Illinois, the study is one of the first to explore gang involvement as leisure activity. The paper was co-written by Liza Berdychevsky, Monika Stodolska and Kim Shinew, all professors of recreation, sport and tourism at the University of Illinois.
“Studies like this are particularly important right now, given the incidence of gun violence in cities such as Chicago and the renewed attention to gang crime nationwide,” Berdychevsky said. “Developing an in-depth understanding of what drives delinquent and criminal activities — and ways that sports and other leisure activities can be used for prosocial purposes — can help create more effective prevention, intervention and rehabilitation programs for at-risk youths and young offenders.”