April 26, 2022

This is really important news. A new study provides the best evidence to date that there are effective ways to tamp down violence among members of high-risk populations without arresting them or throwing them in jail. Via the Chicago Sun-Times:

The last two years-plus have seen unprecedented spikes in violence in Chicago and cities across the U.S. Amid that surge, protesters took to the streets to decry the kind of aggressive policing that’s long been the standard response to rising murder totals.

City leaders have poured record amounts of funding into dozens of community programs — and spent hundreds of millions on police overtime — even as shootings and killings reached near-record levels.

But the study by University of Chicago researchers found that an outreach program operating on the South and West sides is having success in reducing crime and violence among the high-risk men who participated in the program.

The recently completed trial tracked some 2,500 men in Chicago’s most violent neighborhoods and found that men who participated in an intensive, 18-month program called READI Chicago were nearly two-thirds less likely to be arrested for a shooting or homicide and nearly 20% less likely to be shot or killed themselves than a similar group of men that weren’t in the program. Those are all significant declines considering a third of participants had been shot at least once before enrolling, and had an average of 17 arrests on their rap sheet.

Participants were recruited by outreach workers and community members, or targeted from a list of high-risk Chicagoans generated by an algorithm that weighed their recent arrest history and violent incidents involving them or their social networks. Results were even better for the men who were referred in by outreach workers, with shooting and homicide arrests dropping nearly 80% and shootings and killings by almost half.

This is really exciting news, and undercuts the kneejerk response that more arrests are always the best solution to gun crimes:

For 18 months, Sylvester could get paid $15 an hour to participate in daily job training and counseling sessions, including cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT. The five one-hour CBT sessions each week helped rewire his thought processes and examine “risky thoughts,” he said, unwinding the reflexes his years on the street had built up.

Sylvester was drawn in by the wages, but the CBT is what kept him coming back.

“I really never questioned it. You come at me, I’m gonna take it to the next level, is what I was about, same as everyone else,” Sylvester said during an interview at READI’s Austin headquarters. “The training gets you thinking about what you’re risking, about not letting other people’s negativity draw you down.”

This man is now taking college courses to become a social worker and working in outreach for the program.

“CBT and employment are different medicine for the same people … interrupting a feud is like first aid or the emergency room, where you’re patching things up in an emergency,” Blattman said. “READI is like the vaccine. Before you go shoot someone, we’re going to equip you with the skills to keep you from ever getting in that situation.”

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