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June 2016
Promises, Threats, And Prestige - How Do Organized Crime Gangs Recruit New Members?

      By Emma Stevens


Emma Stevens is a London based Business and Finance writer.

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Paternalistic Psychopathy? The Mafiosi’s Mind

The most important resource for any organized criminal gang is its members. Members must not only be able to carry out tasks, but must be arguably more trustworthy from the gang’s point of view than members of legitimate firms need to be. The duties of a gang member may sometimes be quite violent [1], and are almost certain to be beyond the bounds of the law. So a certain type of person is required. How do organized crime gangs identify, recruit, and keep their people? They certainly don’t seem short of manpower - so how do they come by it?

Culture

Most of us are brought up to respect the law, and fear the consequences of lawbreaking. We’re also discouraged (by and large) from violence, and encouraged to treat our fellow humans well. While it’s certainly not impossible to recruit gang members from the ranks of ordinary civilians (more on that later), some people come as ready-made gang members. Such people lack the cultural law-based conditioning instilled in the rest of us from an early age. Indeed, they may even be culturally conditioned to adhere to and respect organized criminal lifestyles and modes of behavior. We’ve all heard about how some facets of youth culture encourage gang membership [2] and so forth. For some, it goes rather deeper than that. Those brought up around organized crime are more able to slip seamlessly into life as a member of an organized criminal gang. Their law-based scruples will not be as strong as their proclivity for gang activity and membership. If the organized criminal group in question has a specific culture of their own [3] (and distinctive culture is frequently an important facet of an organized criminal gang), these young people may already be deeply saturated in it. This not only makes recruitment easier, but makes the new members in question easier to assimilate and control.

Threats

In all fairness, ‘threats’ is a better description of organized criminal methods of gang control than of recruitment - perhaps ‘indenture’ is a better term to use here. Indenture with a great deal of implied threat! Being ‘in debt to the mob’ is a technique frequently utilized by Hollywood to involve an ostensibly ‘good’ character in organized crime. And it’s true that organized criminal gangs may sometimes recruit manpower through calling in ‘favors’ from those who owe them, or over whom they have some other form of hold. Conventional avenues of help [4] do not really exist for those who owe the mob! However, it’s more common for organized crime gangs to indenture the most helpless and vulnerable members of society than it is for them to draw from the suburbs (so to speak). Victims of human trafficking, for example, or drug addicts may be pressured into prostitution [5], or dealing, or other criminal activities in order to pay off ‘debts’ accrued with the gang. The work they do is usually fairly low level, and rarely particularly salubrious. It’s a form of slavery which frequently destroys lives. Not a particularly savory aspect of organized criminal culture.

Prestige And Promises

At the other end of the scale, organized criminal gangs may offer considerable incentives for membership. There is a lot of prestige associated in some quarters with organized crime associations. Not only is there plenty of money to be gained, but also respect, purpose, and the kind of power (should you manage to rise through the ranks) which may not otherwise be available to you. This is, unsurprisingly, far more attractive for some people than the prospect of grinding away at a low-paid 9-5 for the rest of their life, unable to afford a mortgage [6] and constantly struggling for rent. It's worth noting that organized crime may also seem to offer a degree of protection against the worst that the world has to offer (if only by being even worse!) [7]. Organized crime appears to offer a chance to financially better oneself, as well as to gain respect, protection, and excitement. Many organized criminal enterprises play up these aspects n order to recruit likely seeming members, or those who could be useful to them. Everyone, after all, has a price...

[1] http://www.jstor.org/stable/1034756?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents

[2] http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/children-peril-gang-culture-turning-767468

[3] http://www.springer.com/us/book/9780387747323

[4] http://www.quotezone.co.uk/debt-help.htm

[5] http://polarisproject.org/sex-trafficking

[6] http://polarisproject.org/sex-trafficking

[7] DMS_Course_Materials_and_Outline/Readings-MPA831/PolEconOfOrgCrime-831.pdf


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