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Criminal subculture is a way of life of minors and young people united in a criminal group (a gang). They are alien to a society and human values as well as to the requirements of the rules of conduct, traditions and values. Criminal subculture does not like publicity (Adshead, 2007). Livelihoods of persons belonging to antisocial and criminal groups are largely hidden from the eyes of teachers and adults. Norms, values and requirements of this subculture are shown only if they have no resistance. Criminal subculture is the primary mechanism of criminalization. Its social harm is that it provides a mechanism for uniting the criminal groups, making it difficult to distort or block the process of socialization, and stimulating criminal behavior of adolescents and youths. According to the results of a survey, minors and young people, who are parts of gangs, imagine money, pornography and sex, cars, and prestigious rest as the most important values.
The founder of a subcultural theory, Thorsten Sellin, described a criminogenic factor which is the conflict between cultural values of different communities (Aldred et al., 2008). Subsequently, an American sociologist Albert Cohen developed his concept of subcultures on the basis of the Sellin’s theory (Aldred et al., 2008). Cohen studied the particular cultural values of criminal organizations (gangs). In these small groups a kind of “subculture” (views, habits, skills, behavior patterns, norms of communication, rights and obligations, penalties) may form. Subcultural theory primarily considers a group as a carrier of deviant ideas (Aldred et al., 2008). Each subculture has its own life norms and values, rather different from conventional. People who belong to these subcultures behave in accordance with the requirements of the group, but a society defines such behavior as deviant.
One of the first studies on the basis of this approach was made by Cohen in 1955 with an example of a gang of delinquent teenagers (Aldred et al., 2008). Considering this group as a deviant subculture, Cohen found that the members of this group recognize the values that were “anti-culture”, which denied the value of the middle class (Aldred et al., 2008). Young people from the gang disparagingly referred to the property of others and their feelings exhibited acts of wanton attacks and destruction. Apparently, they got aggressive satisfaction from plunging people into discomfort. They were devastating destroying the value of the middle class: above all, their hard work and the value of property. Thus, Cohen found that the deviant group, which he explored, was a special kind of subculture (Aldred et al., 2008). He also summarized the idea that most of the deviant groups were simply a negative reflection of a culture in a society which builds its values on the principle of “inverse symmetry” to the values of dominant groups. Examples of deviant subcultures can be found in any society (Aldred et al., 2008).
A typology of deviant subcultures defines the dominant form of deviant behavior. These subcultures are represented in gangs where crime and violence are used to achieve their goals (success and material well-being). This is a subculture of organized criminal groups which are appropriate for the violation of norms instrumentally (Broadhurst et al., 2008). Discipline is one of the most important values, without which a group will not be able to operate effectively. The cult of strength and courage that prevails in these groups is associated with the specific means used to achieve the objectives. Without support of these values regular use of violence, which is one of the major funds, is not possible (McConnochie, 2008). At the same time, organized crime groups tend not to use violence if that does not appear necessary, as, for example, in a case of intellectual crime (financial fraud or cybercrime).
An interesting practical conclusion from the theory of subcultures is a provision under which the correction of a criminal society is often impossible without the destruction of the criminal subculture which protects the criminal mind from the educational influence of a society. Since a criminal subculture, as mentioned above, is often a reaction to certain aspects of a social system, then, perhaps, there is a need to talk about the changes in the dominant culture of a society. Subcultural theory does not explain, of course, why the deviant norms and values are manifested in a society (Adshead, 2007). Clearly, individuals make their choices. There are many examples when people break out of a subcultural context in which they are located. Despite these criticisms, we cannot deny the importance of socialization for the formation of deviant behavior. Evidence of the importance of socialization effects is found in virtually every form of deviant behavior – from drug abuse and juvenile delinquency to organized crime.
Apart from theories, the practical approach to the problem reveals two sides of development. The formal (official) structure is designed to help a teenager or a young man to obtain a secondary education, to choose a profession and get prepared for a working life. It represents only one layer of activity of minors and young people. In this sphere of life (relationship to learning, training, work and community work, participation in student government bodies, etc.), teachers and adults divide the minors and young people into activists and non-activists, into the disciplined and undisciplined, etc. (McConnochie, 2008). In essence, assessment of behavior and personality traits of a teenager and a young man are given in terms of handling and the degree of obedience. Another aspect is informal structure. In gangs people are never expected to gain education and some position. They are completely autonomous and do not fit into higher order structures. Gangs are not dependent on the world's older. Mainly, these associations arise due to a lack of communication and low levels of formal associations.
Modern society is currently under intense pressure of different criminal groups due to several reasons. The deep social and economic crisis that hits nowadays society is the most crucial among them. In addition, criminal world managed to extend its influence on the broad scope of socio-economic activities. The main area where the criminal elements are fixed is economy. Just some years ago, any criminal community existed as a parallel to a society being largely autonomous. This autonomy was allocated primarily to criminal norms, values and attributes. Criminal elements sought to limit their relations with society in order to prevent the erosion of their sub-culture and ideology (McConnochie, 2008). Quite a different situation happened in the 90s. Having acquired considerable wealth, the underworld received a real chance to achieve power and popularity. Its inclusion in the life of a civil society is still widespread. They totally rely on their own ideology which is based on the subculture of delinquency. The peculiarity of this situation is the fact that crime has penetrated into strata of every society. Hence, it has the significant impact on social relations. Ruling groups began to form a system of relations, forcing other people to follow these relationships and focus on them as a model, since only this orientation allows certain individuals to hope for success in the new social reality. Before, the criminal subculture was widespread in a prison system. However, now it has gone far beyond its borders receiving many representations, including youth gangs.
The other aspect of youth gangs is the absence of culture. The deep crisis of our society has reduced the space for literary culture as the basis of socialization. For most people, the culture basis is the language of media. Thus, the criminal subculture has received an additional opportunity to strengthen and spread in a society through their special dialect of gangs’ spoken language which becomes a part of the popular spoken language (Broadhurst et al., 2008). Undeniably, language is a conditional factor since it transmits only the nature of interpersonal relationships, professional criminal terms and general negative attitude toward the manifestation of positive human emotions: trust, honesty, conscience, love, etc. and does not carry any positive start (Adshead, 2007). Still, adherence to existing patterns of speech in everyday activities generates appropriate behavioral patterns.
In fact, it should be noted that it is very difficult and challenging to understand the mechanism of the criminal subculture functioning as well as to understand the system of conventions and taboos of a criminal group. Probably, this is due to the fact that teachers and adults, as well as researchers, have to face a double minor opposition in relation to adults: age and antisocial basis. Often, adults and teachers struggle with the age opposition perceiving it as criminal. It also happens that they do not attach importance to antisocial opposition and its harmful effect on minors. Still, the criminal world is rejuvenated with regards to gangs’ popularity, taking new forms and skillfully adapting to the rapidly changing realities of our lives. People need to take courage to admit that criminality among the youth gains popularity, and it needs to be studied seriously, starting from the routes of formation of criminal gangs, many of which, incidentally, are born in prison. However, it is not simple as such cult has its undivided brutal power. Hence, only the present knowledge of this heartless, ruthless and cynical world, its terrible laws and customs, cults and habits, symbols, secret signs and specific language will give us an opportunity to seriously oppose such a noticeable surge in crime.