Counselling program reduces youth violence

A new study provides rigorous scientific evidence that a violence reduction program succeeded in creating a sizable decline in violent crime arrests among youth who participated in group counselling and mentoring.

The Crime Lab study—by far the largest of its kind ever conducted—is unique in that it was structured like a randomized clinical trial of the sort regularly used to generate “gold standard” evidence in the medical area.

Such controlled studies remain rare in the area of crime prevention, and in social policy more broadly. Detailed findings were released Friday.

The program, Becoming A Man—Sports Edition, was developed and delivered by Youth Guidance and World Sport Chicago to more than 800 boys in 18 CPS schools during the 2009-10 school year.

Youth who participated in the program showed a 44 percent decrease in violent crime arrests during the intervention. Participating youth also became more engaged with school — an impact that grew even larger in the year after the program ended.

University of Chicago President Robert J. Zimmer noted that the research fits into the University’s larger dedication to engaging with urban challenges.

“From its very beginnings, the University of Chicago has used evidence-based research to improve social conditions in Chicago and all over the world,” Zimmer said.

“The Crime Lab’s work is an important part of the University’s commitment in this regard, addressing some of the city’s most pressing social issues,”
he said.

In addition to its impacts on school engagement and violence involvement, the BAM-Sports Edition program also proved to be cost-effective.

Derek Douglas, Vice President for Civic Engagement at UChicago said, “The Crime Lab is a critical part of the University’s broader civic engagement. We are eager to develop partnerships that use the University’s academic insights to help address the challenges that people in Chicago face. This is an example of how we can have an impact both locally and nationally, by showing how a research university can be involved in a meaningful way in the life of its community.”

“The results of the Crime Lab study make it clear: We simply can’t give up on our youth,” said Michelle Adler Morrison, Youth Guidance CEO.

“This study proves that even with so much stacked against them, when given access to an innovative program that really provides the support and guidance they need, these young men can and will succeed,” he said.

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Police Department data show that by far the most common homicide motive in Chicago is an “altercation” that escalates into a tragedy, usually involving guns.

The key idea behind BAM-Sports Edition is that correcting certain “thinking errors” can help protect young people from becoming involved in impulsive behaviors, including violence.

Using data from CPS and the Illinois State Police, researchers tracked students’ school engagement, school performance and arrests over the 2009-10 and 2010-11 school years.

While the researchers are continuing to collect data that will help to refine and extend the findings, the analysis revealed that BAM-Sports Edition participation:

Reduced violent arrests by 8.1 arrests per 100 youth during the program year, a reduction of 44 percent.

Reduced arrests for crimes categorized as “other,” including vandalism, trespassing, and weapons possession, by 11.5 arrests per 100 youth during the program year, or 36 percent.

Reduced the likelihood of attending a school inside a juvenile justice setting in the year after the program by 53 percent.

Equally important, the intervention improved school performance and engagement, measured by days present in school, grade-point average and school persistence. Importantly, these impacts on schooling outcomes lasted even after the program ended.

Although students were too young to have graduated by the end of the study period, the size of the schooling impacts imply that graduation rates might increase in the future by an additional 10 to 23 percent of the control group’s graduation rate. An increase in graduation of this magnitude would be very large and important, given that high school graduation rates in the U.S. have barely changed over the past 40 years, despite the ever-increasing importance of a high school diploma for success in the job market.

“These findings emphasize the potential of helping youth to develop their non-academic skills as a strategy to decrease violence,” said Heller, a doctoral student at UChicago’s Harris School of Public Policy Studies and lead author of the study.

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