Community change, school disorder, school social bonds, and youth gang involvement

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Kirk and Laub (2010) observed that community effects on crime should be studied as dynamic processes as communities change. The present research examined schools' role in regulating youth behavior and how community change affects school climate (School Disorder and School Social Bonds; SSB) using social disorganization and social bonds theories. G. Gottfredson, Gottfredson, Czeh, Cantor, Crosse, and Hantman (2000) collected data from a large, national probability sample of schools to examine youth gang problems and school-based intervention and prevention programs. I examined a subsample (N = 269) of these schools. Variables were collected from school rosters and self-report questionnaires. School variables were modeled as latent variables derived from the variance in student responses that is attributed to the school to which the student belonged. Community variables were constructed from the 1990 and 2000 Census data. Multilevel latent variable structural modeling allowed for the examination of individual and community effects on self-reported gang participation. I argued that school characteristics were related to its community's characteristics, and that school variables contributed to student-reported gang involvement. School characteristics were also hypothesized to mediate the relation between community change and a student's likelihood of gang involvement. Some hypotheses were supported by this research. Findings lend support for the extension of social bonds theory to the school-level. Significant student predictors of the probability of gang involvement included Personal Victimization, Social Bonds, Fear, minority status, and age. At the group-level, SSB and School Disorder explained significant variance in gang involvement in the hypothesized directions, net of all other variables already in the model. A partial mediation of the relationship between School Disorder and the likelihood of gang involvement by the student variables was found. The community change variables were somewhat independent of the school characteristics measured. School-based gang prevention efforts may benefit from a climate characterized by prosocial bonds and low social disorganization, especially for schools in communities that have high levels of concentrated disadvantage and communities projected to experience demographic change. Practical applications of these findings in schools include smaller student-to-teacher ratios and implementing rules that are fair and clear.