City cites Crime Lab data in funding innovative youth program

The city of Chicago will provide an additional $2 million to expand a violence reduction program that has been shown to be effective in research by the University of Chicago Crime Lab, Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced Feb. 7.

Emanuel made the announcement at a news conference where he described the city’s plans to invest in proven programs for at-risk Chicago Public School students to provide pathways to jobs, life skill training, guidance, and safe alternatives to drugs, gangs and violence. He praised the work of Crime Lab in identifying the effectiveness of the violence prevention program, Becoming a Man–Sports Edition (BAM).

“The greatest thing we can do as a city is give our children the support they need to succeed in the classroom, get jobs and build successful and enjoyable lives,” Emanuel said. “We are investing in programs that have shown significant return on investments—they have reduced failing grades, reduced arrests, increased graduation rates, kept our youth out of gangs, and made a difference in keeping our most vulnerable children safe.”

Jens Ludwig, director of the Crime Lab and the McCormick Foundation Professor of Social Service Administration, Law and Public Policy at UChicago, said the city’s move shows the impact of violence-prevention studies. “It is fantastic that the city is paying attention to what is effective in combating these problems.” 

The new funding will allow 2,000 boys to take part in BAM, which Crime Lab has found to reduce arrests for violent crimes by 44 percent. About 600 boys currently take part in group counseling and mentoring in the program, which has partnered with the Chicago Public Schools and local nonprofits Youth Guidance and World Sport Chicago.

The Crime Lab study released last summer showed that during the program year, BAM reduced arrests for violent crimes by 8.1 arrests per 100 youth and reduced arrests for crimes, including vandalism, trespassing and weapons possession by 36 percent, or 11.5 arrests per 100 youth. The program also increased school engagement.

The Crime Lab study, by far the largest of its kind conducted, is unique because it was structured like a randomized clinical trial used to generate “gold standard” evidence in the field of medicine. Such controlled studies remain rare in the area of crime prevention, and in social policy more broadly.

Becoming A Man—Sports Edition was developed and delivered by Youth Guidance and World Sport Chicago during the 2009-10 school year to more than 800 boys in 18 public elementary and high schools, mainly on the city’s low-income South and West sides.

Based on the success of the study, the Crime Lab is working with the University of Chicago Urban Education Lab, Youth Guidance, World Sport Chicago, the MacArthur Foundation and other philanthropic partners to develop a follow-up study that will provide BAM-Sports Edition along with intensive, small-group academic tutoring.

In addition to its impact on school engagement and violence involvement, the BAM-Sports Edition program also proved to be cost-effective. “The program cost around $1,100 per participant, while its impacts on criminal behavior generated benefits to society that are valued on the order of $3,600 to $34,000 per participant, depending on how we measure the costs of crime,” Ludwig said.

Chicago 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. 

The program model uses group counseling and nontraditional sports activities to strengthen adolescents’ social-cognitive skills, including self-regulation and impulse control, social-information processing (the ability to accurately infer the intentions of others), future orientation, personal responsibility and conflict resolution.