Can religion lead gang members away from crime?

The short answer is yes: ex gang members who join a religious ‘support’ programme as a way out of crime have lower re-offending rates. However, the re-offending rates of those who quit such programmes have higher reoffending rates than those who never took part at all!

This is according to some recent research summarized in this interesting Thinking Allowed podcast. The research summarized is clearly relevant to both the beliefs in society module and the crime and deviance module.

The podcast starts off with a discussion of what gangs are, focusing mainly on how uncritically the term is used.

There’s an especially interesting discussion on labelling as applied to gangs and how naming a gang can sometimes be enough to bring it into existence.

There is also commentary on how the gang label is typically applied to groups of young people, and how it has racial connotations, being applied more to black youth.

The podcast then moves onto routes into gangs, outlining how various ‘causal factors’ have been identified through research, such as poverty, deprivation, and childhood trauma.

However research on causes is a bit 1990s, and the focus today is more on routes out of crime, or what criminologists call desistance

Desistance: Routes out of Crime

This episode of Thinking Allowed finishes off with a summary of Professor Ross Deuchar‘s work on the routes out of gangs.

He has spent time with gang members who have served their time for gang related offenses and in a liminal phase, trying to transition away from gang life, and his research has a real global focus, he’s researched desistance in Scotland, the US and Asia.

Previous research of his highlighted the fact that traditional, or hegemonic masculinity played a big part in gang members criminality – much of the violence was about playing out a hyper masculine role.

His research shows that religious groups offering therapeutic support to ex gang members have a higher success rate than usual in helping ex gang members to desist from crime.

He suggests this might be because the focus on spirituality (rather than dogma) allows for a deepening awareness of self an others and it helps ex-gang members learn how to be men in different ways to previously.

There is a lot more to this podcast, and I suggest you check it out, click the link above to find out more!

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