The question whether convicted youth gang members should be treated like other juvenile delinquents including status offenders is very crucial in very many states. This resource manual strives to address this question. As a starting point, this paper will look at the evolvement of gangs and the background of juvenile justice system. There is no one accepted or straightforward definition of a gang. The public and media use the term ‘gang’ more loosely than those in the criminal justice system. A youth gang is commonly thought of as a self-formed association of peers having a gang name and recognizable symbols, identifiable leadership, a geographic territory, a regular meeting pattern, and collective actions to carry out illegal activities. Most gang members define their gang along one or two basic definitional lines which are involvement in crime and the affiliation and cultural aspects of gang membership that make it like a family in the eyes of many members. The youth gang problem in many states has become an important policy issue largely because of the increasing youth gang violence and the apparent proliferation of youth gangs throughout all sectors of the nations.
Youth gangs pose a significant challenge in juvenile justice. There seems to be little evidence that the influence of these gangs is diminishing or that it will become less of a problem in the future. Therefore, it is important that practitioners in juvenile confinement facilities have good information about ways to address the nature and extent of youth gang problems. There are many reasons why youths join gangs and sometimes the adolescent doesn't exactly know why. However, some of the more common reasons include:
To experience a sense of family, belonging or fellowship.
To gain respect, a positive self-image, status.
To experience power and control in their lives.
To realize financial gain.
For excitement and fun; and other social gains.
For protection from neighborhood or rival gang violence.
Because of recruitment intimidation.
Because it is a family tradition.
Due to peer pressure.
Because the dangers of gang involvement are not understood.
In the late 1800's, juvenile courts were established as an alternative to the adult criminal justice system. The juvenile justice system was designed specifically to meet the needs of non-violent, juvenile offenders and children at risk of becoming juvenile delinquents. Historically, juvenile crimes were considered "youthful indiscretions," warranting lenient treatment and rehabilitative responses. Unlike the offense-based adult system, the juvenile justice system is offender based, focusing on rehabilitation rather than punishment. Recently, many states have attempted to strike a balance among system and offender accountability, offender competency development and community protection.
According to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child ("U.N. Child Convention"), which the General Assembly adopted and formally ratified in 1998, Children and adults should not be treated equally under the international human rights regime. Before proceeding, it is necessary to examine the special rights of children enumerated in the same. Anti-gang legislation was a sudden shift in the legal trajectory that could be traced for the treatment of juvenile delinquents. Previously, implementation of significant reforms including specialized procedures and legal norms for the treatment of juveniles in conflict with the law was encouraged. This exceptional process, however, was revoked under anti-gang legislation resulting in recognition and treatment of juve