Recruitment into organised criminal groups: A systematic review


This paper provides a narrative synthesis of the results of a systematic review of the social, psychological and economic factors leading to recruitment into organised crime.This is based on the analysis of evidence emerging from 47 qualitative, quantitative and mixed-method studies published in or before 2017.While the selected studies varied markedly in method and quality, several factors emerged as particularly important in understanding recruitment into organised criminal groups. These included the role of social relations (family, kinship, friendship and work-relations), criminal background and criminal skills.


URLs correct as at October 2019

Albini JL 1971. The American Mafia: Genesis of a legend. Sociology Series. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts

Arlacchi P 1983. La mafia imprenditrice: L’etica mafiosa e lo spirito del capitalismo. Bologna: Il Mulino

Arsovska B 2015. Decoding Albanian organized crime: Culture, politics, and globalization. Oakland: University of California Press

Behan T 1996. The Camorra. London: Routledge

Blok A 1974. The mafia of a Sicilian Village 1860–1960: A study of violent peasant entrepreneurs. New York: Harper & Row

Blokland A, van Hout L, van der Leest W & Soudijn M 2019. Not your average biker: Criminal careers of members of Dutch outlaw motorcycle gangs. Trends in Organized Crime 22(1): 10–33.

Bottini G, Fiorina ML & Salvato G 2017. Report on emotional and cognitive determinants of OC involvement. In Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore–Transcrime et al., D1.1 Report on factors relating to OC. PROTON Project.

Brancaccio L 2017. I clan di camorra: Genesi e storia. Donzelli Editore

Brotherton D & Barrios L 2004. The Almighty Latin King and Queen Nation: Street politics and the transformation of a New York City gang. New York: Columbia University Press

Calderoni F, Campedelli GM, Comunale T, Marchesi M & Kamprad A 2017. What are the social, economic and psychological risk factors that lead to recruitment to organised crime groups? Oslo: The Campbell Collaboration.

Calderoni F, Superchi E, Comunale T, Campedelli GM, Marchesi M & Frualdo N 2019. PROTOCOL: Organised crime groups: A systematic review of individual-level risk factors related to recruitment. Campbell Systematic Reviews 15(1–2): e1022.

Campedelli GM, Calderoni F, Comunale T & Meneghini C 2019. Life-course criminal trajectories of mafia members. Crime & Delinquency. Advance online publication.

Caprì CA, Miccichè S, Sideli L & La Barbera D 2018. Using network community detection to investigate psychological and social features of individuals condemned for mafia crimes. Clinical Neuropsychiatry 15(2): 111–12

Carvalho LS & Soares RR 2016. Living on the edge: Youth entry, career and exit in drug-selling gangs. Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization 121: 77–98.

Ciconte E 1992. ’Ndrangheta dall’Unità a oggi. Roma Bari: Laterza

Craparo G, David V, Costanzo G & Gori A 2018. Cosa Nostra and the Camorra: Assessment of personality, alexithymic traits, and attachment styles. International Journal of Law and Psychiatry 58: 17–26.

Cressey DR 1969. Theft of the nation: The structure and operations of organized crime in America. New York: Harper & Row

Decker SH, Bynum T & Weisel D 1998. A tale of two cities: Gangs as organized crime groups. Justice Quarterly 15(3): 395–425.

Decker SH & Chapman MT 2008. Drug smugglers on drug smuggling: Lessons from the inside. Philadelphia: Temple University Press

Decker SH & Curry GD 2002. Gangs, gang homicides, and gang loyalty: Organized crimes or disorganized criminals. Journal of Criminal Justice 30(4): 343–52.

Decker SH & Pyrooz DC 2015. Street gangs, terrorists, drug smugglers, and organized crime: What’s the difference? In SH Decker and DC Pyrooz (eds), The handbook of gangs. Chichester: Wiley: 294–308

Densley JA 2012. Street gang recruitment: Signaling, screening, and selection. Social Problems 59(3): 301–21.

Fiandaca G (ed) 2007. Women and the mafia: Female roles in organized crime structures. Studies of Organised Crime, vol 5. New York: Springer-Verlag

Fisher H, Montgomery P & Gardner F 2008. Opportunities provision for preventing youth gang involvement for children and young people (7-16). Campbell Systematic Reviews 8.

Fuller G, Morgan A & Brown R 2019. Criminal histories of Australian organised crime offenders. 567. Trends & issues in crime and criminal justice no. 567. Canberra: Australian Institute of Criminology.

Gambetta D 1993. The Sicilian mafia: The business of private protection. Cambridge: Harvard University Press

García MM 2006. ‘Narcoballads’: The psychology and recruitment process of the ‘Narco’. Global Crime 7(2): 200–13.

Giménez-Salinas A & Regadera SF 2016. Multiple affiliations in criminal organizations: Analysis of a Spanish sample. Crime, Law and Social Change 65: 47–65.

Giménez-Salinas A, Requena L & de la Corte L 2011. ¿Existe un perfil de delincuente organizado? Exploración a partir de una muestra española. Revista Electrónica de Ciencia Penal y Criminología 13

Gordon RM 2000. Criminal business organizations, street gangs and ‘wanna-be’ groups: A Vancouver perspective. Canadian Journal of Criminology 42: 39–60

Gottfredson MR & Hirschi T 1990. A general theory of crime. Palo Alto: Stanford University Press

Hess H 1973. Mafia and mafiosi: The structure of power. Lexington: Lexington Books

Higginson A, Benier K, Shenderovich Y, Bedford L, Mazerolle L & Murray J 2018. Factors associated with youth gang membership in low- and middle- income countries: A systematic review. Campbell Systematic Reviews 11.

Higginson A, Benier K, Shenderovich Y, Bedford L, Mazerolle L & Murray J 2015. Preventive interventions to reduce youth involvement in gangs and gang crime in low- and middle-income countries: A Systematic Review. Campbell Systematic Reviews 18.

Hixon SJ 2010. Archetypal perspectives on Nordic and Germanic initiation symbols, mythology, and rites of passage in a European American self-referenced white supremacist gang (Doctoral thesis). Saybrook University, Ann Arbor. ProQuest/UMI (Publication No. 3418929)

Hodgkinson J, Marshall S, Berry G, Newman M, Reynolds P, Burton E, Dickson K & Anderson J 2009. Reducing gang related crime: A systematic review of ‘comprehensive’ interventions. Technical report. In Research evidence in education library. London: EPPI-Centre, Social Science Research Unit, Institute of Education, University of London

Ianni FAJ & Reuss-Ianni E 1972. A family business: Kinship and social control in organized crime. New York: Russell Sage Foundation

Ingrascì O 2007. Donne d’onore: Storie di mafia al femminile. Milano: Pearson Italia S.p.a.

Jhi KY & Gerber J 2015. Texan gangs In “Da Hood: The impact of actual and perceptual neighborhood qualities on gang membership. Justice Policy Journal 12.

Kirby S, Francis B, Humphreys L & Soothill K 2016. Using the UK general offender database as a means to measure and analyse organized crime. Policing: An International Journal 39 (1): 78–94.

Kissner J & Pyrooz DC 2009. Self-control, differential association, and gang membership: A theoretical and empirical extension of the literature. Journal of Criminal Justice 37(5): 478–87.

Kleemans ER 2014. Theoretical perspectives on organized crime. In L Paoli (ed), The Oxford handbook of organized crime. Oxford: Oxford University Press: 32–52

Kleemans ER & de Poot CJ 2008. Criminal careers in organized crime and social opportunity structure. European Journal of Criminology 5(1): 69–98

Kleemans ER & van de Bunt HG 2008. Organised crime, occupations and opportunity. Global Crime 9(3): 185–97.

Kleemans ER & van de Bunt HG 1999. The social embeddedness of organized crime. Transnational Organized Crime 5(1): 19–36

Klein MW & Maxson CL 2006. Street gang patterns and policies. New York: Oxford University Press

Laub JH & Sampson RJ 1993. Turning points in the life course: Why change matters to the study of crime. Criminology 31(3): 301–25.

Lo TW 2010. Beyond social capital: Triad organized crime in Hong Kong and China. British Journal of Criminology 50(5): 851–72.

Lupo S 1993. Storia della mafia: Dalle origini ai nostri giorni. Roma: Donzelli

Mallion JS & Wood JL 2018. Emotional processes and gang membership: A narrative review. Aggression and Violent Behavior 43: 56–63.

May C 2009. The relationship between risk factors, social support and gangs (Doctoral thesis). Alliant International University, Ann Arbor: ProQuest/UMI (Publication No. 3421105)

Melde C & Esbensen F-A 2014. The relative impact of gang status transitions: Identifying the mechanisms of change in delinquency. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency 51(3): 349–76.

Melde C & Esbensen F-A 2011. Gang membership as a turning point in the life course. Criminology 49(2): 513–52.

Morgan A, Brown R & Fuller F 2018. What are the taxpayer savings from cancelling the visas of organised crime offenders? Statistical Report no. 8. Canberra: Australian Institute of Criminology.

Morselli C 2003. Career opportunities and network-based privileges in the Cosa Nostra. Crime, Law and Social Change 39(4): 383–418

Ostrosky F, Díaz KX, Romero C & Borja KC 2012. Neuropsychological profiles of members of organized crime and drug-traffic organizations. Research and Reports in Forensic Medical Science 17 October 2012.

Paoli L 2003. Mafia brotherhoods: Organized crime, Italian style. Oxford: Oxford University Press

Paoli L & Fijnaut C 2004. Introduction to Part I: The History of the Concept. In C Fijnaut & L Paoli (eds), Organised crime in Europe: Concepts, patterns and control policies in the European Union and beyond. Dordrecht: Springer: 21–46

Pyrooz DC, Turanovic JJ, Decker SH & Wu J 2016. Taking stock of the relationship between gang membership and offending: A meta-analysis. Criminal Justice and Behavior 43(3): 365–97.

Raby C & Jones F 2016. Identifying risks for male street gang affiliation: A systematic review and narrative synthesis. Journal of Forensic Psychiatry & Psychology 27(5): 601–44.

Requena L, de Juan M, Giménez-Salinas A & de la Corte L 2014. A psychosocial study on crime and gender: Position, role and status of women in a sample of Spanish criminal organizations / Un estudio psicosocial sobre la delincuencia y género: Posición, rol y estatus de la mujer en una muestra española de organizaciones criminales. Revista de Psicología Social 29(1): 121–49.

Sales I 2015. Storia dell’Italia mafiosa: Perché le mafie hanno avuto successo. Rubbettino

Salvato G, Fiorina ML, Ovadia D, De Maio G, Francescon E & Bottini G in press. Investigating the psychological profile of organized crime members. In D Weisburd, EU Savona, B Hasisi & F Calderoni (eds), Understanding recruitment to organized crime and terrorism. Cham: Springer

Savona EU, Calderoni F, Campedelli GM, Comunale T, Ferrarini M & Meneghini C 2017. Recruitment into mafias: Criminal careers of mafia members and mafia bosses. D.1.1 Report on factors relating to OC. Milan: Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore – Transcrime.

Savona EU, Calderoni F, Superchi E, Comunale T, Campedelli GM, Marchesi M & Kamprad A 2017. Systematic review of the social, psychological and economic factors relating to criminalisation and recruitment to OC. D.1.1 Report on factors relating to OC. Milan: Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore.

Schimmenti A, Caprì C, La Barbera D & Caretti V 2014. Mafia and psychopathy. Criminal Behaviour and Mental Health 24(5): 321–31.

Schloenhardt A 2010. Palermo in the Pacific: Organised crime offences in the Asia Pacific Region. Leiden: Brill

Sciarrone R 2014. ’Ndrangheta: A reticular organization. In N Serenata (ed), The ’Ndrangheta and Sacra Corona Unita: The history, organization and operations of two unknown mafia groups. Studies of Organized Crime vol 12. Cham: Springer: 81–99.

Sergi A 2018. Widening the antimafia net: Child protection and the socio-cultural transmission of mafia behaviours in Calabria. Youth Justice 18(2): 149–68.

Sergi A 2016. A qualitative reading of the ecological (dis)organisation of criminal associations: The case of the ‘Famiglia Basilischi’ in Italy. Trends in Organized Crime 19(2): 149–74.

Spapens T & Moors H 2019. Intergenerational transmission and organised crime: A study of seven families in the south of the Netherlands. Trends in Organized Crime.

Tonks S & Stephenson Z 2019. Disengagement from street gangs: A systematic review of the literature. Psychiatry, Psychology and Law 26(1): 21–49.

United Nations 2000. United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime. General Assembly Resolution 55/25 of 15 Nov 2000

Unlu A & Ekici B 2012. The extent to which demographic characteristics determine international drug couriers’ profiles: A cross-sectional study in Istanbul. Trends in Organized Crime 15(4): 296–312.

van Dijk M, Kleemans E & Eichelsheim V 2018. Children of organized crime offenders: Like father, like child? An explorative and qualitative study into mechanisms of intergenerational (dis)continuity in organized crime families. European Journal on Criminal Policy and Research.

van Koppen MV 2013. Involvement mechanisms for organized crime. Crime, Law and Social Change 59(1): 1–20

van Koppen MV & de Poot CJ 2013. The truck driver who bought a café: Offenders on their involvement mechanisms for organized crime. European Journal of Criminology 10(1): 74–88

van Koppen MV, de Poot CJ & Blokland A 2010. Comparing criminal careers of organized crime offenders and general offenders. European Journal of Criminology 7(5): 356–375

van Koppen MV, de Poot CJ, Kleemans ER & Nieuwbeerta P 2010. Criminal trajectories in organized crime. British Journal of Criminology 50(1): 102–23.

van San M & Sikkens E 2017. Families, lovers, and friends: Women, social networks, and transnational cocaine smuggling from Curaçao and Peru. Howard Journal of Crime and Justice 56(3): 343–57.

Varese F 2013. The structure and the content of criminal connections: The Russian mafia in Italy. European Sociological Review 29(5): 899–909.

Varese F 2011a. How mafias take advantage of globalization: The Russian mafia in Italy. British Journal of Criminology 52(2): 235–53

Varese F 2011b. Mafias on the move: How organized crime conquers new territories. Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press

Varese F 2006. How mafias migrate: The case of the ’Ndrangheta in Northern Italy. Law and Society Review 40(2): 411–44

Varese F 2001. The Russian mafia: Private protection in a new market economy. Oxford: Oxford University Press

Wang W 2013. Conventional capital, criminal capital, and criminal careers in drug trafficking (Doctoral thesis). Simon Fraser University, Canada.

Weerman F, Maxson CL, Esbensen F-A, Aldridge J, Medina J & van Gemert F 2009. Eurogang program manual: Background, development and use of the Eurogang instruments in multi-site, multi-method comparative research.

Zhang S & Chin K-L 2002. Enter the dragon: Inside Chinese human smuggling organizations. Criminology 40(4): 737–68.