Youth gangs in Texas may be no more vicious than those in other states, but you can't tell that to the average Texan.

A 1995 Crime Poll comparing the views of Texans and residents of other states shows that Texans believe more strongly that youth gangs are a problem (48 percent Texans/30 percent nationally).

The poll was conducted by the Survey Research Program in Sam Houston State University's Criminal Justice Center. Results are based on 1,005 telephone interviews nationally and 501 in Texas, with a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percent.

"Citizens' concerns about the gang problem are well founded," said Timothy J. Flanagan, dean of the Criminal Justice Center. "Juveniles are more likely than adults to commit serious violent crimes in groups rather than alone."

Flanagan said that no nationwide data are collected on the number or growth of juvenile gangs, but law enforcement officials have observed that street gangs have begun to migrate from city to city. In addition, he said, police officials report gang activity in small towns and rural areas, previously thought to be immune to such threats.

Other areas in which there were big differences in the opinions of Texans and other U. S. citizens were in fear of sexual assault, reasons for owning a gun, and views on how local courts treat minorities.

Texans worry more about either themselves or a family member being sexually assaulted (52 percent) than do poll respondents from other states (39 percent). They also worry more about getting beaten up, knifed, or shot (34/25 percent) and being attacked while driving their cars (38/30 percent).

In Texas, where carrying a concealed handgun becomes legal Jan. 1, Texans differed significantly from the rest of the nation on two questions--"are there any guns in your household" (56 percent "yes" in Texas to 43 percent nationally) and "main reason for gun ownership" (33 percent of Texans listed "protection" as opposed to 20 percent nationally).

Also, more Texans (16 percent) than other citizens (9 percent) said gun control laws should be made "less strict."

A higher number of Texans believe that the courts in their local community do not treat minorities as well as whites (53 percent Texans/42 percent nationally). A lesser difference was indicated on whether courts granting bail to persons previously convicted of a crime is a problem (81 percent of Texans polled, 74 percent nationally).

Areas of agreement or near agreement included views on capital punishment, the success to date of the nation's "war on drugs," and use of the military to solve the drug problem.

Seventy-two percent of Texans as well as national respondents said they were in favor of the death penalty for persons convicted of murder. On a related question, Texans said they would more likely oppose the death penalty if the murderer was severely retarded (61 percent) than if it could be proven that the death penalty is not a deterrent to murder (33 percent). Only 39 percent said they would be more likely to oppose the death penalty even if a life sentence, without the possibility of parole, was available.

Texans (73 percent) also agreed with national sentiment (72 percent) that the government's war on drugs has had no effect on the amount of drug use in their communities. Both groups are equally convinced (37 percent) that the most effective approach to dealing with drug use in American society would be military intervention at U. S. borders.

Running a close second to military intervention was educational programs for drug users, favored by 33 percent of Texans and 35 percent of national respondents.

According to Dennis Longmire, director of the Survey Research Program, these data help to dispell the myth that Texans are significantly more conservative about crime than are others.

"This year we are able to look at Texans' attitudes alongside those of people from other states," Longmire said, "and when you look at the two sets of data, there just aren't many noteworthy differences."

Looking at trends in national data, Longmire observed that "people are becoming increasingly concerned about our justice system's ability to deal with the crime problem. Texans as well as those from other states seem to be particularly concerned with the court system as well as the criminal justice system's ability to deal with the problems drugs present to our communities."


For more information, contact Dr. Timothy Flanagan at 409-294-1632, or e-mail icc_tjf@shsu.edu, or Dr. Dennis Longmire at 409-294-1651 or 409-295-0206 (home), or e-mail icc_drl@shsu.edu. Media contact is Frank Krystyniak at 409-294-1833, 409-295-8541 (home), or e-mail pin_frk@shsu.edu.

Dec. 19, 1995