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Getting Out of Gangs, Staying Out of Gangs: Gang Intervention and Desistance Strategies

NCJ Number
Date Published
January 2013
10 pages
This article identifies the pivotal life points at which targeted gang interventions may be the most effective, and strategies for getting youth out of gangs (“desistence”) at these points are recommended.
Gang desistence research highlights crucial leverage points in a gang member’s life that may lead him to reconsider and end his gang membership. These experiences include involvement with the criminal justice system; negative contacts with law enforcement; victimization by other gang members; periods of disruption of the framework of the gang; and maturation/life-change events such as a romantic relationship, pregnancy, birth of a child, family health issues, etc. Whether or not these points occur abruptly or over a period of time, they influence a person’s view of his gang membership and its value to him as measured by new attitudes and perspectives on what he wants for his life. Although little research has been conducted on long-term gang-desistence strategies, more extensive research on criminal and substance abuse desistance can inform gang intervention strategies. Best practices in these areas include removing barriers that may keep the individual stuck in a life of gangs and crime while simultaneously helping the individual to gain and maintain new adult roles and responsibilities. Some barriers that may need to be addressed are a lack of education and job skills, pressure from delinquent peers, and personal and family issues that complicate behavioral change. Helping the gang member gain and maintain adult responsibilities can include assistance in re-envisioning his personal identity, setting and achieving goals, facilitating access to educational and economic opportunities, and providing motivational support to bolster his efforts to change. 18-item resource list

Date Published: January 1, 2013