The unheard voices: An exploration of the engagement and disengagement experiences of black ex-youth gang members

  • Author / Creator
    Mpiani, Anthony
  • Youth gangs and the criminal activities they engage in remain a major problem in Canada. Recent media and law enforcement reports suggest that some black youth have been involved with gangs. However, experiences of black ex-youth gang members in Canada have received relatively limited scholarly engagements. Based on data from semi-structured in-depth interviews with 16 black ex-youth gang members, this study investigates why black youth join gangs, why some desist from gangs and how they construe their experiences with the Canadian criminal justice system.
    Discursive accounts of participants suggest that black youth gang involvement results from a reciprocal relationship between individual and socio-structural factors. Specifically, some black youth join gangs due to adverse experiences at home, school, communities, influences of deviant peers, and their quests for money, respect, status and friendship. The study demonstrates that black youth gang membership tends to be temporary, and some black youth gang members desist because of actual or threat of violence (to self, family members or gang members), disillusionment, fear of incarceration, police harassment, committed relationships, advice from influential others and religious awakening.
    The study reports three key findings on black youth gang members’ experiences with the criminal justice system. First, the interactions between black youth gang members and police are mostly marked by physical and verbal abuse, harassment and disrespect with few encounters characterised by fairness and respect. Also, interactions between black youth gang members and police are shaped by gender and race. Second, black youth gang members who come into contact with youth courts are mostly released to surety and on multiple vague bail conditions that lead to their further entrenchment in the system. Some black youth gang members are also unlawfully detained prior to trial due to perceived racial biases in the criminal justice system. Despite perceived racialized treatment of black youth gang members, my findings suggest that sentences imposed on them tend to be proportional and have meaningful consequences. Third, black youth gang inmates experience segregation, physical and verbal abuse by correctional officers. Additionally, they report inadequate access to medical care, rehabilitative programs and food. The implications of the study’s findings for theory, practice, policy and future research are analysed.

  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Graduation date
    Spring 2020
  • Type of Item
  • Degree
    Master of Arts
  • DOI
  • License
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