Formation & Characteristics of Modern Gangs

Instructor: Leanne White

Leanne has a master's degree and an independent licensure in chemical dependency counseling. She has extended experience in corrections and post-secondary education.

Gangs have been around for centuries engaging in violent crime, overcrowding correctional facilities, and running the streets of large cities. Over time, they've evolved and are now in schools and rural areas. The lesson will discuss the formation and characteristics of the modern gang.


Most likely, you've heard of a famous gang, including the Crips, Bloods, or the Aryan Brotherhood. Have you ever wondered what purpose they serve? How they were formed or how someone even goes about joining a gang?

Gangs can be described as a group of people who have common demographics and engage in criminal activity. With over a million gang members in the US and the majority of violent crime being committed by gang members, it is essential to understand the formation and characteristics of modern gangs.

Modern Gangs

Traditionally, gangs were only seen in large inner-cities, however, gang involvement has spread to smaller cities, including suburbs and rural areas. They've become the norm for correctional institutes and are even filtering into schools. Gang life is integrated into music, movies, and the media, and children as young as six are engaging in gang life.

Gangs are designed to stick together, protect one another, and to serve a purpose. The Crips and the Bloods, for example, are both primarily made up of African-American males. These two gangs are known as street gangs and protect their own territory and members. The Aryan Brotherhood was originally formed in prison and remains primarily a prison gang. The Aryan Brotherhood is comprised of white supremacists and was formed when prisons moved away from racial segregation.

While gangs are commonly known to be racially and ethnically based, the presence of hybrid gangs has become prevalent over time and law enforcement is seeing more diverse gangs than they have in the past. It's believed that gangs are allowing members of differing demographics to join to expand their membership to ultimately increase their power and presence.


Gang members are proud of who they are and want their presence to be known. To do so, gangs typically adopt identifying characteristics that set them apart from other gangs, including:

  • a name
  • logo
  • colors
  • clothing style
  • hand signs
  • tattoos

Some gangs will use graffiti to inform the community of their presence by vandalizing property with their symbols and colors.


There are several reasons to join a gang, including

  • access to money and drugs
  • protection
  • camaraderie
  • status
  • sense of belonging
  • peer pressure
  • family tradition

It's common to see adolescents, who come from troubled families with limited resources, to join a gang for the sole purpose of obtaining resources they are lacking at home. For those adolescents who are born into an environment where criminal involvement is expected, being part of a gang can help them become better criminals.

It's also possible to be born into a gang. Families with several generations of gang involvement expect their children to follow suit. In regards to peer pressure, this is the hardest type of pressure to escape because gang involvement is a family tradition. Some families will abandon their children if they do not accept the gang life.

A lot of criminals don't join a gang until they are incarcerated. Becoming part of a group who share common demographics can provide a sense of belonging and protection while in prison.

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