1st Edition

Youth Involvement in Street Gangs in California’s Central Valley

By Huan Gao Copyright 2025
    254 Pages 2 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    This timely, insightful, and data-led book fills a gap in gang scholarship by examining gangs in rural areas, specifically focussing on youth gang activity.

     Incorporating information from interviews with 96 active youth gang members and associates in three of the rural counties of California’s Central Valley, this book provides an in-depth look at youth involvement in gang life in rural settings and addresses the underlying factors leading to the socialization of rural youths into gang life. The book documents the family and school life of youths living in rural communities and examines the process by which they are initiated into gang activity. It discusses their roles in various street gang organizations and their gang-related and non-gang-related illegal activities. It traces their experience within the criminal justice system, from initial contacts with the police to confinement in juvenile facilities. Besides extensive interviews with the youths, data from more than 300 surveys of community members, accompanied by field research in local communities, provide groundbreaking insights into a wide spectrum of issues related to gangs in rural settings. While the Central Valley of California serves as the research site for this extensive work, its findings are equally relevant to other rural areas in the United States and in the larger global context.

    This volume will be of pivotal interest to students, scholars and academics in the fields of criminology, sociology, law, social sciences and political sciences, as well as criminal justice practitioners, policymakers, community leaders and advocates for anti-gang programs.

    1. Youth Gang Involvement in California’s Central Valley

    Gangs in Agricultural Setting

    Studying Gangs in the Central Valley

    The Research Process

    Field Relation



    2. Family in the Ecological Context

    Agricultural Communities in the Central Valley

    Family Environment and its Impact

    Deviant Family Members



    3. Getting into Trouble in School

    Motivation for School

    Ditching Class

    Troubles in School

    Schooling and Teen Parents

    From Suspension to Expulsion

    From Alternative School to Dropping Out



    4. Immersion into Gangland

    Gang Affiliation in a Neighborhood Context

    Youth Gang Affiliation

    Organizational Structures of Gangs

    Jumped into the Hood

    Representing the Gang: Changing Perspectives



    5. Gangs and Crime in Rural Counties

    Gangs and Violence in Perspective

    Gangs and Street Violence

    Gangs and Drug Trafficking

    Gangs and Property Crime



    6. Juvenile Hall: A Revolving Door

    Contacts with the Police

    Moving into the Judicial Process

    Cases in Juvenile Court

    The Cycle of Juvenil Probation

    Effectiveness of the Placement Program

    Is Juvenile Hall Merely Daycare?

    Gangs and Challenges in the Community Context

    Would You Do It Again?

    Leaving the Gang




    7. Conclusion


    Huan Gao is Professor of Criminal Justice at the California State University, Stanislaus. She is the author of Women and Heroin Addiction in China’s Changing Society (2011) and was an academic visitor at the Center for Criminology at Oxford University in 2022.