Recent Research on Disengaging from Gangs: Implications for Practice

  • David C. Pyrooz
  • Scott H. Decker


Once inside a gang, can people leave? If so, what steps are taken to exit a gang, and at what costs? This chapter examines a range of issues related to disengaging from gangs, reviewing the current state of knowledge on a topic that has begun to garner attention in the research community that matches the interests of the practitioner community. Disengaging from gangs is conceptualized within a life-course framework. This chapter details findings from studies examining changes in criminal offending and the motives and methods for leaving gangs. Based on these studies, along with preliminary findings from an ongoing study of gang disengagement, this chapter offers several key conclusions for practice.


Gang Member Informal Social Control Young Offender Gang Membership Criminal Involvement 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



This research was supported by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (2011-JV-FX-0004). We are grateful for their support. The content and opinions expressed in this document are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of these agencies. Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to David C. Pyrooz, Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology, Sam Houston State University.


  1. Bjerk, D. (2009). How much can we trust causal interpretations of fixed effects estimators in the context of criminality? Journal of Quantitative Criminology, 25(4), 391–417.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Bjorgo, T. (2002). Exit neo-Nazism: Reducing recruitment and promoting disengagement from racist groups. Paper 627: Norwegian Institute of International Affairs.Google Scholar
  3. Bjorgo, T., & Horgan, J. (2009). Leaving terrorism behind: Individual and collective disengagement. New York, NY: Routledge.Google Scholar
  4. Bookin-Weiner, H., & Horowitz, R. (1983). The end of the youth gang fad: fact or fiction. Criminology, 21, 585–602.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bovenkerk, F. (2011). On leaving criminal organizations. Crime, Law and Social Change, 55, 261–276.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bushway, S. D., Piquero, A. R., Broidy, L. M., Cauffman, E., & Mazerolle, P. (2001). An empirical framework for studying desistance as a process. Criminology, 39, 491–516.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Centers for Disease Control & National Institute of Justice. (2013). Changing course: Preventing gang membership. Atlanta, GA: Centers for Disease Control and National Institute of Justice.Google Scholar
  8. Cronin, A. K. (2009). How terrorist campaigns end. In T. Bjorgo & J. Horgan (Eds.), Leaving terrorism behind (pp. 49–65). New York, NY: Routledge.Google Scholar
  9. Curry, G. D., Decker, S. H., & Pyrooz, D. C. (2013). Confronting gangs: Crime and community (3rd ed.). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  10. Decker, S. H. (2007). Expand the use of police gang units. Criminology and Public Policy, 6, 729–733.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Decker, S. H., & Curry, G. D. (2002). I’m down for my organization: the rationality of responses to delinquency, youth crime and gangs. In A. Piquero & S. Tibbets (Eds.), Rational choice and criminal behavior (pp. 197–218). New York, NY: Routledge.Google Scholar
  12. Decker, S. H., & Lauritsen, J. (2002). Leaving the gang. In C. Ronald Huff (Ed.), Gangs in America (3rd ed., pp. 51–70). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Decker, S.H., & Pyrooz, D.C. (2011). Gangs and the Internet: Logging off and moving on. Council on Foreign Relations. Retrieved from
  14. Decker, S. H., & Pyrooz, D. C. (2013). Contemporary gang ethnographies. In F. Cullen & P. Wilcox (Eds.), Handbook of criminological theory (pp. 274–293). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  15. Decker, S. H., & Van Winkle, B. (1996). Life in the gang: Family, friends, and violence. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Decker, S. H., Melde, C., & Pyrooz, D. C. (2013a). What do we know about gangs and where do we go from here? Justice Quarterly, 30, 369–402.Google Scholar
  17. Decker, S.H., Pyrooz, D.C., & Moule, R.M., Jr. (2013b). Gang disengagement as role transitions. Journal of Research on Adolescence. In Press.Google Scholar
  18. Egley, A., Jr., & Howell, J. C. (2012). Highlights of the 2010 national gang survey. Washington, DC: National Gang Center.Google Scholar
  19. Elder, G. H., Jr. (1985). Perspectives on the life course. In G. H. Elder (Ed.), Life-course dynamics: Trajectories and transitions, 1968–1980 (pp. 23–49). Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.Google Scholar
  20. Esbensen, F.-A., Peterson, D., Terrance, J. T., & Wayne, O. D. (2012). Results from a multi-site evaluation of the G.R.E.A.T. program. Justice Quarterly, 29, 125–151.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Esbensen, F.-A., Peterson, D., Taylor, T. J., & Freng, A. (2009). Similarities and differences in risk factors for violent offending and gang membership. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Criminology, 42, 310–335.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Farrington, D. P. (2003). Key results from the first 40 years of the Cambridge study of delinquent development. In T. P. Thornberry & M. D. Krohn (Eds.), Taking stock in delinquency: An overview of findings from contemporary longitudinal studies (pp. 137–183). New York, NY: Kluwer/Plenum.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Giordano, P. C., Cernkovich, S. A., & Rudolph, J. L. (2002). Gender, crime, and desistance: Toward a theory of cognitive transformation. American Journal of Sociology, 107, 990–1064.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Giordano, P. C., Cernkovich, S. A., & Holland, D. D. (2003). Changes in friendship relations over the life course: Implications for desistance from crime. Criminology, 41, 293–327.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Gordon, R. A., Lahey, B. B., Kawai, E., Loeber, R., Stouthamer-Loeber, M., & Farrington, D. (2004). Antisocial behavior and youth gang membership: Selection and socialization. Criminology, 42, 55–87.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Gottfredson, M. R., & Hirschi, T. (1990). A general theory of crime. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  27. Healey, D. (2010). The dynamics of desistance: Charting pathways through change. London: Willan.Google Scholar
  28. Hirschi, T., & Gottfredson, M. R. (1983). Age and the explanation of crime. American Journal of Sociology, 89, 553–584.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Horowitz, R. (1983). Honor and the American dream: Culture and identity in a Chicano community. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.Google Scholar
  30. Howell, J. C. (2007). Menacing or mimicking? Realities of youth gangs. Juvenile and Family Court Journal, 58, 9–20.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Howell, J. C. (2011). Gangs in America’s Communities. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  32. Howell, J. C., & Egley, A., Jr. (2005). Moving risk factors into developmental theories of gang delinquency. Youth Violence and Juvenile Justice, 3(4), 334–354.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Hughes, L. (2005). Studying youth gangs: Alternative methods and conclusions. Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice, 21, 98–119.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Jacques, S., & Wright, R. (2008). The victimization-termination link. Criminology, 46, 1009–1038.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Kazemian, L. (2007). Desistance from crime: Theoretical, empirical, methodological, and policy considerations. Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice, 23, 5–27.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Klein, M. W., & Maxson, C. L. (2006). Street gang patterns and policies. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Knox, G. (2011). Gang members on Facebook: Should we look the other way? Retrieved from
  38. Krohn, M. D., & Thornberry, T. P. (2008). Longitudinal perspectives on adolescent street gangs. In A. M. Liberman (Ed.), The long view of crime: A synthesis of longitudinal research (pp. 128–160). Washington, DC: National Institute of Justice.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Krohn, M. D., Ward, J. T., Thornberry, T. P., Lizotte, A. J., & Chu, R. (2011). The cascading effects of adolescent gang involvement across the life course. Criminology, 49, 991–1028.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Laub, J., & Sampson, R. (2003). Shared beginnings, divergent lives: Delinquent boys to age 70. Boston, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  41. Laub, J. H., Sampson, R. J., & Sweeten, G. (2006). Assessing Sampson and Laub’s life-course theory of crime. In F. T. Cullen, J. P. Wright, & K. Blevins (Eds.), Taking stock: The status of criminological theory Advances in criminological theory (Vol. 15, pp. 313–334). New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction.Google Scholar
  42. Maruna, S. (2001). Making good: How ex-convicts reform and rebuild their lives. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Maruna, S., & Roy, K. (2007). Amputation or reconstruction? Notes on the concept of “knifing off” and desistance from crime. Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice, 23, 104–124.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Massolgia, M. (2006). Desistance or displacement? The changing patterns of offending from adolescence to young adulthood. Journal of Quantitative Criminology, 22, 215–239.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Maxson, C. L. (2011). Street gangs. In J. Q. Wilson & J. Petersilia (Eds.), Crime and Public Policy (pp. 158–182). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  46. McGloin, J. (2007). The continued relevance of gang membership. Criminology and Public Policy, 6, 801–811.Google Scholar
  47. Melde, C., & Esbensen, F.-A. (2011). Gang membership as a turning point in the life course. Criminology, 49, 513–552.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Melde, C., & Esbensen, F.-A. (2012). Gangs and violence: Disentangling the impact of gang membership on the level and nature of offending. Journal of Quantitative Criminology, 29, 143–166.Google Scholar
  49. Moloney, M., MacKenzie, K., Hunt, G., & Joe-Laidler, K. (2009). The path and promise of fatherhood for gang members. British Journal of Criminology, 49, 305–325.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Petersilia, J. (2003). When prisoners come home: Parole and prisoner re-entry. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  51. Piquero, A. R., Farrington, D. P., & Blumstein, A. (2003). The criminal career paradigm: Background and recent developments. Crime and Justice: A Review of Research, 30, 359–506.Google Scholar
  52. Piquero, A. R., Farrington, D. P., & Blumstein, A. (2007). Key issues in criminal career research. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Pyrooz, D. C. (2013). From your first cigarette to your last dyin’ day: The patterning of gang membership in the life-course. Journal of Quantitative Criminology. doi: 10.1007/s10940-013-9206-1.
  54. Pyrooz, D. C., & Decker, S. H. (2011). Motives and methods for leaving the gang: Understanding the process of gang desistance. Journal of Criminal Justice, 39(5), 417–425.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Pyrooz, D. C., Decker, S. H., & Webb, V. J. (2010). The ties that bind: Desistance from gangs. Crime and Delinquency. doi: 10.1177/0011128710372191.Google Scholar
  56. Pyrooz, D. C., Sweeten, G., & Piquero, A. R. (2012). Continuity and change in gang membership and gang embeddedness. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, 50, 239–271.Google Scholar
  57. Pyrooz, D. C., Decker, S. H., & Moule, R. K., Jr. (2013). Criminal and routine activities in online settings: Gangs, offenders, and the Internet. Justice Quarterly. doi: 10.1080/07418825.2013.778326.Google Scholar
  58. Reiss, A. J., Jr. (1988). Co-offending and criminal careers. In M. Tonry & N. Morris (Eds.), Crime and justice: A review of research (Vol. 10). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  59. Sampson, R. J., & Laub, J. H. (1993). Crime in the making: Pathways and turning points through life. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  60. Sarnecki, J. (2001). Delinquent networks: Youth co-offending in Stockholm. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Schroeder, R. D., Giordano, P. C., & Cernkovich, S. A. (2007). Drug use and desistance processes. Criminology, 45, 191–222.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Spergel, I. A. (1995). The youth gang problem. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  63. Sweeten, G., Pyrooz, D. C., & Piquero, A. R. (2013). Disengaging from gangs and desistance from crime. Justice Quarterly, 30, 469–500.Google Scholar
  64. Thornberry, T. P., Krohn, M. D., Lizotte, A. J., & Chard-Wierschem, D. (1993). The role of juvenile gangs in facilitating delinquent behavior. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, 30, 55–87.Google Scholar
  65. Thornberry, T. P., Krohn, M. D., Lizotte, A. J., Smith, C. A., & Tobin, K. (2003). Gangs and delinquency in developmental perspective. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  66. Uggen, C., & Piliavin, I. (1998). Asymmetrical causation and criminal desistance. Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, 88, 1399–1422.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Vigil, J. D. (1988). Barrio gangs: Street life and identity in Southern California. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press.Google Scholar
  68. Vigil, J. D. (2002). A rainbow of gangs: Street cultures in the mega-city. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press.Google Scholar
  69. Warr, M. (1993). Age, peers, and delinquency. Criminology, 31, 17–40.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Warr, M. (1996). Organization and instigation in delinquent groups. Criminology, 34, 11–37.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Warr, M. (1998). Life-course transitions and desistance from crime. Criminology, 36, 183–215.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Warr, M. (2002). Companions in crime: The social aspects of criminal conduct. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Criminal Justice and CriminologySam Houston State UniversityHuntsvilleUSA
  2. 2.School of Criminology and Criminal JusticeArizona State UniversityPhoenixUSA

Personalised recommendations