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  • This is a revised version of a paper presented at the 2010 annual meeting of the Western Society of Criminology. The authors would like to thank Donna Coffman, Adam Watkins, Dana Peterson, Terrance J. Taylor, Denise C. Gottfredson, and the anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments on previous drafts of this article. Any errors or omissions that remain are the sole responsibility of the authors. This research was funded by the National Institute of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice, Award No. 2003-JN-FX-0003. The points of view in this document are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official position of the U.S. Department of Justice. Direct correspondence to Chris Melde, School of Criminal Justice, Michigan State University, 560 Baker Hall, East Lansing, MI 48824 (e-mail:


Gang-involved youth are disproportionately involved in criminal behavior, especially violence. The processes accounting for this enhanced illegal activity, however, remain speculative. Employing a life-course perspective, we propose that gang membership can be conceptualized as a turning point in the lives of youth and is thus associated with changes in emotions, attitudes, and routine activities, which, in turn, increase illegal activity. Using prospective data from a multisite sample of more than 1,400 youth, the findings suggest that the onset of gang membership is associated with a substantial change in emotions, attitudes, and social controls conducive to delinquency and partially mediate the impact of gang membership on delinquent activity. Desistance from gangs, however, was not associated with similar systematic changes in these constructs, including delinquent involvement.