Gangs: What Draws People in and What Pushes Them to Leave?

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Themes: Gangs; Street Gangs; Colonialism; Incarceration; Masculinity; Social Capital; Economic Capital; Mental Health; Desistance; Reintegration; Release Planning 

Acknowledgement: This research document was reviewed by Kelsie Zerebeski, she holds a B.A Hons., an M.A. in Criminal Justice, and is a Research Consultant for the Saskatchewan First Nations Family & Community Institute Inc. She is the author of “Incarceration and Re-entry for Provincial Prisoners: Is there Hope?" and her research background and areas of expertise concern the effects of imprisonment, re-entry/reintegration, desistance from crime, and the experiences of former prisoners. The research document was reviewed for comprehensiveness and accuracy to ensure quality and validity of the research. The information in this document is current as of March 2024. 

Executive Summary: This research summary provides a preliminary overview of factors that have contributed to the emergence of street gangs in Western Canada, and the pull and push factors that may influence someone’s decision to enter and leave a gang. There is a focus on the systemic, social, and historical factors that impact Indigenous peoples, and the context these factors provide when understanding push and pull factors within Indigenous street gangs. Attention is drawn to factors such as age (entry/desistance), mental health, gender, social and economic capital, societal and interpersonal supports. This research summary also provides information on the reasons someone may choose to leave a gang, such as family and employment, and the potential supports that are needed to help an individual transition out of a gang. Considerations for release planning and locally available support services, programs, and alternative measures are highlighted.     

Purpose of the document: What are "Systemic and Background Factors" and how are they relevant to the Gladue Principles? Systemic and background factors (also known as Gladue Factors) are the unique experiences, circumstances, and challenges that an Indigenous person, their family, community, or Nation has faced. They relate to the harmful effects of colonialism and discrimination, past and present. Systemic and Background factors must be considered in a Gladue analysis (e.g. the direct and intergenerational impacts of residential school and the Sixties Scoop, among others). These factors are broader circumstances known to contribute to the over-incarceration of Indigenous persons in particular, as well as those that figure prominently in the causation of crime more generally. The purpose of this Research Summary is to help provide social context and background information for judges, lawyers, and Gladue report writers to better unpack the complex ways systemic discrimination and settler colonialism can impact an Indigenous person’s life. As well, these summaries will provide evidence-based research that speak to alternatives to incarceration, restorative options, and ways to support an individual through healing, aftercare, and release planning. While these summaries cannot replace the need for case-specific information about Indigenous individuals or the contemporary dynamics within their families and Nations, they can be used to craft more effective submissions and reports that better tie those case-specific details to the broader social context surrounding Indigenous overincarceration.

Access a copy of the Gangs: What Draws People in and What Pushes Them to Leave?  Summary by downloading the PDF attached at the top of this entry