The process of desistance among core ex-gang members

Rony Berger, Hisham Abu-Raiya, Yotam Heineberg, Philip Zimbardo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


Research has established robust links between gang membership, delinquency, violence and victimization. Yet studies examining the process of gang desistance in general and that of core gang members in particular, are quite rare. The current study aims to identify factors associated with desistance of core gang members as well as describe the nature of the process that these "formers" have undergone. Thirty-nine core ex-gang members (80% males and 20% females) from the San Francisco Bay area and Los Angeles, with an average length of 11.6-years gang membership, were interviewed regarding their involvement in the gang and the desistance process. A systematic qualitative analysis based on grounded theory methodology was mainly utilized. We found that the decision to leave the gang is a result of a combination of push (e.g., personal and vicarious victimization, burnout of gang lifestyle, disillusionment by the gang) and pull (e.g., parenthood, family responsibilities, religious and cultural awakening) factors that evolved over time. Push factors were more dominant in this domain. We also found that while male core ex-gang members tended to leave the gang more frequently because of push factors, female ex-gang members were more inclined to desist due to pull factors. Our analysis also showed that core gang members shared a general pattern of the desistance process comprising of the following 5 stages: triggering, contemplation, exploration, exiting and maintenance. Based on these results, we outlined stage-specific recommendations for agents of societal change to help in facilitating the desistance of core gang members.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)487-502
Number of pages16
JournalAmerican Journal of Orthopsychiatry
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2017


  • Core gang member
  • Desistance process
  • Desistance program
  • Grounded theory
  • Push and pull factors

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Psychology (miscellaneous)
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


Dive into the research topics of 'The process of desistance among core ex-gang members'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this