Gangs and if so, need to learn from their

Gangs in Canada are not a new phenomenon. Gangs date back as far as World War II, yet were first noticed by the Canadian public with biker gangs; however, then, in the 1980’s, street gangs swept Canadian major cities with crime and violence. In addition to that, gangs have now influenced our youth, as well. A youth gang is a group of younger people (usually aged early as 10 to 18) who share common goals or interests and gather to partake in criminal acts. These acts can include robbery, theft, stealing, assault (sexual or non-sexual), break and entry, drug trafficking, or most commonly, violence against rival gangs and crimes to gain economic/territorial power. These youth gangs are sought out to be a community that is like family; one that will protect you physically and support you mentally – however, youth gangs pose more risks than benefits. Being involved in a youth gang can lead to problems such as dropping out of school or low academics, relationship issues (family relationships, intimate relationships, trust issue), mental health issues, and struggle with a low self-esteem, a lack of positive social bonds or support, and problem behaviours. With that, there are many young minds of all different genders and ethnicities involved in the gang life. Individuals in youth gangs should be given the support they need to remove themselves from the gang lifestyle or prevent themselves from joining a gang through support and programs. Moreover, youth in gangs should not be given incarceration as a punishment for their acts (if non-serious), and if so, need to learn from their mistakes and be supported through mentoring and education.  Young gangs across Canada affect a multitude of different people – for example, the First Nations. Most First Nation youth gangs are found in the prairie provinces. First Nation youth joining gangs can be reasoned for their historical and culture losses, social or political inequalities, or economic barriers (such as racism, loss of land/culture, poverty, health issues). However, First Nation children who have suffered a form of harm (neglect, maltreatment, or abuse), or have been placed in out-of-home placements with child welfare and correctional facilities are also prime targets for gang recruitment. Even so, most of the Native Canadian youth gangs are made up of individuals who have moved away from reservations, and get involved in the gang life for a means of survival, protection, identity, belonging, financial support, and access to drugs and alcohol. Research shows that First Nations kids tend to begin abusing substances at an earlier age than any race or ethnic group (Hautala, Sittner, & Whitbeck, 2016). This demonstrates that First Nation youth are a prime target, and especially easy to recruit into the gang life due to barriers they have endured through childhood and development. At the same time, it is not only First Nation youth in these gangs. Gangs are all over the country, filled with an array of different people whom join for different reasons. Some of the reasons youth are drawn to gangs is for protection, a thrill of excitement, want access to drugs/weapons/alcohol, for a sense of belonging, to create profit (poverty), suffer from abuse, feel hopeless, or want to be with friends or family members involved in a gang. However, for one male in particular, gang life came unexpected. It was all he had known, and once involved in the lifestyle, it felt like the only choice he had. His name is Oluwasegun Olufemi Akinsayna, yet goes by Segun. He spent most of his childhood moving from a new home to the next. With all the moving, it provoked feelings of loneliness. Throughout his life, Segun had moved all around the Toronto area; from Victoria Park and O’Connor; to Morningside and Lawrence; all the way to Whitby; and then to Jane and Finch. He was first introduced to a ‘gang life’ when he was 12 and moved in the block of Victoria Park and O’Connor. It was the start of 7th grade and Segun went out to meet kids in the area after school, yet when asked to hang out, the group beat him till he was crying. This was his initiation (recruitment) into their crew; their gang. When he lived in the area of Morningside and Lawrence, he met a boy named Michael. The two boys began smoking and gambling everyday. Moreover, Michael had family who associated with the Galloway Boys; a gang that formed in the late 80’s and for decades, have been involved in drug trafficking, gun running, and prostitution. Finally, Segun had moved to Jane and Finch. He lived with his older sister due to his father struggling with diabetes, and his constant travelling between Toronto and home in Quebec for business. He ran with the gangs in the area of Jane and Finch as he felt he had no choice. The street gang life was all he has ever known. He was stealing, abusing substances, failing out of school, gambling, and selling drugs. However, his life changed on April 20th, 2006. Segun and his friend, Nathan, were in a Coffee Time when Danilo Celestino, a 17 year old male, came into the cafe. All the teenage boys confronted each other, and Danilo had soon discovered Segun turned out to be friends with someone who had beaten his friend with a metal pipe for trying to rob his car. Things turned violent and Segun was stabbed in the back of the neck. When Segun got a hold of the blade, he stabbed Danilo 3 times; one of the cuts slicing the teenagers aorta. Segun was charged with second-degree murder, and was facing life. Yet, he went to prison for 2 years and was released in February, 2009 on probation. He was 21 years old. Segun is just an example of one Canadian youth who joined a gang, not completely aware of the impacts it would have on his life. There are many kids in Canada who are in the gang lifestyle, and these kids are suffering from traumatic experiences. In fact, gang members exposed to violence and victimized to trauma report high levels of exposure to violence, yet also meet the criteria of traumatic events that can lead to negative mental health, and PTSD (Kerig, Chaplo, Bennett, & Modrowski, 2016; Laurier & Guay, 2016). Therefore, it is an issue that need to be addressed for the sake of the Canadian youth who are struggling in gang culture, as it will not only affect their current way of living, but also their future. In the Canadian Criminal Code, under section 467.1, it states, “being involved in a gang or activities or being aware of gang criminal activities can be 14 years in prison – not including the crimes committed.” However, the laws are different for a youth. Youth, aged 12 to 18, fall under the laws of the Canadian Youth Criminal Justice Act for those who are alleged to have committed a criminal offence. Prior to this act, Canada had one of the highest youth incarceration rates in the Western world. Back before this act, youth sentences were not required to be proportionate to the seriousness of the crime committed. When the YCJA came into effect in 2003, the options for youth sentences become: community service, probation, attending a program, intensive support program, intermittent custody, deferred custody, custody and supervision, or intensive rehabilitation custody. In cases where the youth is incarcerated, however, this strategy does not work alone. Not only do some correctional institutes hardly rehabilitate the youth, they also tend to further criminalize a person and lead to re-offending. This could potentially lead to a cycle of release and imprisonment. To prove this, several research studies have suggested that youth gang members are more likely to be re-arrested and re-incarcerated following their release from custody than non-gang members. That being said, there should be more support for those youth in system, as being in the system continuously can cause a person to feel like they were given up on; a lost of opportunity and potential. By helping these youth, you can rehabilitate them and push them in a direction to lead a successful, positive life. In Canada alone, there are dozens of programs dedicated to help youth in gangs, or on the crossroads of joining one. For example, the Surrey WRAP program focuses on support program for student who show signs of gang-associated behaviour. The program tries to attack youth to school, community, and home by building trustful, positive bonds. The program collaborate with parents/guardians to learn hot support and assist goals to help their child build self worth. There is also a Youth Alliance Against Violence program in Saskatchewan that aims to help youth exit gangs safely or resist gang activities. This program is mainly dedicated to Aboriginal youth and helps increase youth attachment to school, build on life skills, reduce crime, and help kids who dropped out of high school, get their diploma. Another example is located in Jane and Finch, where some of the highest crime rates in Ontario are. The program, Positive Alternatives to Youth Gangs, is aimed to prevent high risk minority youth from joining street gangs or disobeying the law. This program is dedicated to help youth exit gangs safely, focuses on one-on-one support, mentoring, after school programs, and summer programs. However, programs exist all other the country, such as Regina Anti-Gang Services, Youth At Risk Development, WrapAround Edmonton, Durham Youth Gang Strategy, and many many more. Not only should a youth invest in programs, parents/guardians play key roles as well, and should invest and learn ways to help their child such as building a stronger relationship, setting time aside to talk with their child, and learning how to help their child. Although gangs are an issue that has faced Canada for decades, we should take better care of our youth in these violent, crime-ridden lifestyles. Instead of putting them in a system where they could end up feeling like a lost cause and everyone has given up them, programs and education should be made available for kids who need help, and want to reach out to get out of the gang life.