Young People’s perceptions and motivations for joining Gangs in Norwich and Colorado Springs
: exploring the implications for the policy response

  • Jonathan James Bendall

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


Building on the comprehensive research evidence from the USA and the growing research evidence in the UK, this study sought to achieve two aims. The first aim of this research was to gain an understanding of the factors that motivate and influence youths with regards to their involvement with street gangs in areas outside the large metropolitan areas where these studies usually occur. The second aim was to establish if these motivating factors differed between the USA and the UK, which may affect the viability and likely success of policy transfer, specifically gang suppression techniques in the US. This later approach appeared to be favoured in the UK, following the 2011 riots. However, the approach has been modified to include diversionary and support structures, coupled with enforcement, as evidenced by Operation Sceptre and Operation Shield, both Metropolitan Police operations based on the US based Operation Ceasefire.
The study reviews the existing literature, identifying the research evidence relating to motivational issues to join gangs. The research evidence is on the analysis of self-completion questionnaires from young people in mid-sized cities in the USA and in the UK. The findings generated research evidence that identified two significant differences, in relation to the relative importance of ‘fear’ and ‘fashion’. In the US fear was a compelling motivational factor, whilst it was not considered so in the UK. Fashion showed the opposite relationship with the UK deeming it a higher motivational factor than the US. Neither of the significant differences identified above were present in the results from those identifying as gang members. The research evidence supported prior works identifying reputation as the major influencing factor in youth involvement in street gangs, this being coupled with protection and friendship.
This thesis contributes to the knowledge about what motivates youth involvement in street gangs. It shows that similar motivational factors exist in mid-sized cities, as in the larger urban centres. This suggests that evidence based programs to reduce gang involvement are relevant in mid-sized cities, as well as in larger urban centres. The research supports a view that suppressive policies will do little to dissuade youths from joining if the societal conditions that lead to gang formation are not addressed.
Date of Award2018
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Portsmouth
SupervisorNathan Hall (Supervisor) & Carol Hayden (Supervisor)

Cite this