Gang Disengagement Studies in Guatemala and Honduras

Gang activity remains a complex issue in Guatemalan and Honduran societies. Gang members, who join at age 14 on average, perpetuate the crime and violence that inhibits the countries’ efforts to solve issues around security and out-migration—two major international issues in the Western Hemisphere.

“One’s social circle has a significant influence on the intent to disengage. Gang members who are exposed to social groups different from the gang appear to be more willing to abandon gang life.” - Honduras report

Our Guatemala and Honduras Gang Disengagement Studies explored questions such as: Can gang members leave gangs, quit criminal activities, and rehabilitate? If so, what are the conditions and factors that influence their decisions and allow them to leave their gangs?

These two studies, completed in 2020 with Florida International University and Democracy International, were commissioned by USAID, through the Latin America and Caribbean Youth Violence Prevention Project, and build off a 2017 gang desistance study conducted by Florida International University in El Salvador.

In Honduras, our study showed that gang desistance is influenced by the presence of positive social relationships outside the gang, gang members’ maturing attitudes towards family and work, and faith-based support to gang members who want to disengage.

“Gangs offer what no other community institution provides to youth in these communities: a sense of belonging, protection, friendship, and respect.”  - Guatemala report

In Guatemala, we found that gang desistance is influenced by similar factors, though it is somewhat more difficult to leave a gang than in Honduras. In addition, traumatic experiences in the gang often leads to disengagement. Increased involvement in religion played a role in gang desistence in both countries, although to a lesser extent in Guatemala.

Each report contains country-specific and research-based recommendations to inform USAID and host government gang desistance strategies.