The Society for Social Work and Research

2013 Annual Conference

January 16-20, 2013 I Sheraton San Diego Hotel and Marina I San Diego, CA

The “Drugs-Crime Cycle” in Cross-National Perspective: High Risk and Gang-Involved Youth in Boston and San Salvador

Thursday, January 17, 2013: 4:30 PM
Executive Center 4 (Sheraton San Diego Hotel & Marina)
* noted as presenting author
René Olate, PhD, Assistant Professor, Ohio State University, Columbus, OH
Mansoo Yu, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Missouri-Columbia, Columbia, MO
Michael G. Vaughn, PhD, Associate Professor, Saint Louis University, St. Louis, MO
Purpose: There is a strong link between substance use, drug selling, and adolescent externalizing problem behaviors, including delinquency, violence, and risky sexual behavior. The relationships between violent delinquency and substance abuse have been labeled the “drug-crime cycle”. Although research has begun to demonstrate these relationships in the US and developed countries, scant empirical evidence exists regarding the differences and similarities between high risk youth from Latin America and Latino youth in the US. The primary objective of this study is to estimate the relative effects of externalizing problem behavior variables and demographic variables in the prediction of alcohol and marijuana use among high risk youth and youth gang members (ages 13-24) in Metropolitan Boston (MA) and San Salvador (El Salvador).

Methods: Data were collected from the first wave (2009) of an ongoing longitudinal cross-national study (in Spanish and English) of predominantly Latinos youth (N=511) participating in high risk youth organizations in Boston (Age M=18.8 SD=2.3) and San Salvador (Age M=19.7 SD=2.5). Multiple logistic regression analyses were conducted with simultaneous entry of sociodemographic characteristics (age, gender, employment, living with family, having a child, and currently in school) and externalizing problem behaviors (gang involvement, legal problems, violent delinquency, arrest, and unprotected sexual intercourse) to assess the effects on drug selling, marijuana (lifetime use) and alcohol consumption (lifetime binge drinking and past month binge drinking).

Results: Descriptive results indicate that youth in San Salvador have a significantly higher percentage of lifetime binge drinking (72.4% vs. 50.0%) and drug selling (30.4% vs. 16.7%) than in Boston. Non-significant differences were observed on lifetime marijuana use for youth in general in both cities (67.6% vs. 65.6%); however, youth gang members in Boston have a significantly higher percentage of lifetime marijuana use (94.2% vs. 75.7%). Results from logistic regressions indicate that, for youth in Boston, gang involvement, violent delinquency and arrests positively predicted delinquent behavior while having a child negatively predicted marijuana selling. Gang involvement, legal problems, and unprotected sex positively predicted marijuana use, while having a child negatively predicted marijuana use. Violent delinquency, unprotected sex, and gang involvement positively predicted of lifetime binge drinking, while being in school negatively predicted alcohol abuse. For youth in San Salvador, only violent delinquency positively predicted selling marijuana and marijuana use. Being male, legal problems, violent delinquency, and unprotected sex positively predicted lifetime binge drinking.

Conclusions: Findings from this cross-national study support the premises of the “drugs-crime cycle” regarding violent delinquency, drug selling and substance use, among Latino youth, and have important implications for interventions for high risk youth and youth gang members. Social welfare agencies and social work practitioners working with high risk Latino populations should consider the specific factors of the “drug-crime cycle” in order to produce targeted intervention strategies. Differences between Latinos in the US and in Latin America highlight the importance of developing cross-national evidence-based interventions with caution and with careful attendance to the unique cultural context of the youth population served.