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