Date of Award


Access Restriction


Degree Name

Doctorate in Education



School or College

School of Education

First Advisor

Karen Huchting

Second Advisor

Patrick Lopez-Aguado

Third Advisor

Rebecca Stephenson


This study examined those employment-focused interventions (services, programming, mentorship, other supports) most effective in supporting an individual’s desistance from gang involvement. Utilizing a qualitative approach (interviews, document analysis and nonparticipant observation), this study engaged with individuals and organizations involved in the critical work of gang desistance to learn what makes their practices most effective. The criticality of gang desistance work lies in its efforts to address the thousands of lives continually lost each year as a result of gang-involvement and activity. Where gangs exist in cities, towns and communities across the country (and world, for that matter), the approaches of demonization, marginalization and suppression continue as the overwhelming response to gangs and gang activity. This study highlighted the individuals and organizations offering an alternative, employment-focused approach built on peer- and community-based efforts founded on inclusion and empowerment.

Through the data collection, this study intended to identify and detail the practices of the research participants and why they are effective. Beginning with a review of available research within the field of gang desistance, an understanding of the evolving theories of the phenomenon of one desisting from gang involvement were explored, followed by an exploration of why individuals join gangs, the impacts of gang involvement, what prompts gang members to desist, and those interventions most supportive of this desistance. With an emphasis on service providers and leaders with the lived experience of gang desistance, as well as organizations dedicated to gang desistance work, the themes and evidence that emerged from the data collection provided deeper insights into how the process of desisting from gang involvement can be most effectively supported and realized.

The outcome of this research pointed to several components of the work of gang desistance that make it most effective. These components focused on the desisting individual and the internal and external elements that both prompted and help maintained their desistance; the types of interventions most conducive to supporting a desisting individual––especially those focused on the individual’s identity desistance and self-efficacy; and, finally, those qualities of those service providers and organizations who provided these interventions and what made them impactful and effective.

The findings of this study revealed that there are models, practices and other elements to support individuals toward effectively desisting from gang involvement. The findings also revealed the challenging and dynamic nature of the phenomenon of gang desistance––both for those desisting and those supporting them. Resulting from this nature of the work and the still developing field of gang desistance studies, these findings also offered areas of focus for future research toward a stronger understanding of the process of gang desistance, and, more importantly, the development and implementation of effective gang desistance concepts and practices.