Analysis of the Social Capital Stock of Young Latinos and Gang Membership in Washington State

Rosalinda Mendoza
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The focus of this report is to examine what happens before young Latinas/os enter the juvenile justice system, specifically the social agents that encourage gang activity. As at the national level, young Latinas/os in Washington State are disproportionately represented in the juvenile justice system. This research looks at adolescent violence, specifically gang-related crime and its ties to poverty, structure of family life and school support systems.


In collaboration with my Walla Walla community partner, Mr. Vance Norsworthy (a probation officer at the Walla Walla Juvenile Justice Center), I was able to gather state and county level data for Latino juvenile detainees in Washington State and learn more about the juvenile justice process. In addition, U.S. Census Bureau research, interviews with young Latinas/os, police officers, and school personnel, and scholarly articles relating to young Latinas/os and gang activity highlight the major impact that poverty, family structure, and school support groups have on young Latina/o students and their propensity to join gangs and thus enter the juvenile justice system.


The poverty and dynamics of family structure of young Latinas/os are some of the factors that create a need of social capital that leads them to delinquent behavior. Social capital “refers to the collective value of all ‘social networks’ and the inclinations that arise from these networks to do things for each other.”1 A lack of interaction between parents and their children encourages young Latinas/os to search for support outside the home such as in gangs. In addition, the interview material gathered suggests that support groups can add to the social capital stock of young Latinas/os, which would help offset the social capital deficit they already experience.


In order to tackle this lack of resources leading young Latinos to join gangs, there needs to be a larger emphasis on the government provision of support systems targeted to individual needs. Meanwhile, the state government should also allocate more funds for educational and employment training programs that improve the economic situation of low-income Washingtonians (including Latino parents) to alleviate poverty as suggested by the Seattle Jobs Initiative’s report.2 By taking a multilateral action, the Washington government can expect to see improvements not only in the Latino community, but in the state as a whole.

1 Robert D. Putman, “Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community,” (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2000). 2 Seattle Jobs Initiative, “Beyond The Bottom Line: Expanding Economic opportunities for Washington’s Working Families 2004,” (2004): 26


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