Gang desistance refers to the cessation of gang activities and disentanglement from gang identity. Despite the widespread myths concerning an inability to leave a gang without severe consequences, most individuals will desist from gang activities in a passive manner. Although passive exits may be common, gang desistance is both a social and a psychological phenomenon that defies an oversimplified event of sudden cessation. Studies have revealed theoretical patterns and processes that involve a wide variety of motivations and exit strategies that are not mutually exclusive from each other. Although the majority of gang-involved individuals will eventually leave the gang, the paths toward desistance are not always straightforward, sometimes resulting in ambivalent and ambiguous behaviors, such as regression back to gang involvement, and residual attributes of street lifestyles rather than abrupt cessation of gang affiliation.
For concerns of outside observers, the nebulous boundaries of gangs further complicate understanding of gang exit. Motivators of desistance include push factors such as personal and vicarious experiences of violence and victimization, disillusionment with gang life, dissolution of gangs and membership attrition, and incarceration. Pull factors that motivate gang desistance are maturing or aging out, parenthood, family and prosocial support, and religion. Despite the rhetoric surrounding a violent requirement for gang exit, it is more common for an individual to cease gang activity without a violent incident. Nonviolent exits are accomplished through walking away, fading out of the gang scene, and geographic relocation. Despite the varied regional contexts, studies on gang desistance have resulted in similar findings.