Motives and methods for leaving the gang: Understanding the process of gang desistance

David C. Pyrooz, Scott Decker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

137 Scopus citations


Purpose: This study examined the process of leaving the gang. Gang membership was conceptualized in a life course framework and the motives for why and methods for how one leaves the gang were analyzed. Methods: Data were gathered from a sample of 84 juvenile arrestees in Arizona, all of whom left their gang. Motives for leaving the gang were organized into factors internal (push) and external (pull) to the gang, while methods for leaving the gang were organized into hostile and non-hostile modes of departure. Motives and methods were cross-classified and their correlates were examined, notably in relation to gang ties-persisting social and emotional attachments to the gang. Results: Push motives and non-hostile methods were the modal responses for leaving the gang. While it was not uncommon to experience a hostile departure from the gang, most former gang members reported walking away without ritual violence or ceremony. This method was conditional on the motive for departure, however. None of the individuals leaving the gang for pull or external reasons experienced a hostile departure. While gang ties persisted regardless of motive or method, retaining such ties corresponded with serious consequences. Conclusions: A life course framework is capable of organizing similarities between leaving the gang and desistance from other forms of crime and deviant groups. The process of gang desistance is consistent with asymmetrical causation. Due to limited attention to this process, a typology is introduced as a basis for understanding leaving the gang in relation to desisting from crime.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)417-425
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Criminal Justice
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 1 2011

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Applied Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Law


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