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Changes in Personal Social Networks across Individuals Leaving Their Street Gang: Just What Are Youth Leaving Behind?

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Date Published

Since little is known about how social networks and changes in networks correspond to self-reported changes in street gang membership over time, the current study describes the personal or “ego” network composition of 228 street gang members in two east coast cities in the United States.


The study highlights changes in personal network composition associated with changes in gang membership over two waves of survey data, describing notable differences between those who reported leaving their gang and fully disengaging from their gang associates, and those who reported leaving but still participated and hung out with their gang friends. Results showed some positive changes (i.e., reductions) in criminal behavior and many changes toward an increase in prosocial relationships for those who fully disengaged from their street gang, compared with limited changes in both criminal behavior and network composition over time for those who reported leaving but remained engaged with their gang. The findings suggest that gang intervention programs that increase access to or support building prosocial relationships may assist the gang disengagement process and ultimately buoy desistance from crime. The study also has implications for theorizing about gang and crime desistance, in that the role of social ties should take a more central role. (publisher abstract modified)

Date Published: January 1, 2021