Crime Lab research cited in $10 million gift to expand summer jobs program for at-risk youth

More Chicago high school students from disadvantaged neighborhoods will be able to participate in a summer jobs program that has been shown to dramatically reduce youth violence. Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Feb. 17 announced a $10 million private investment that will allow the city to expand the employment opportunities in the One Summer Chicago Plus program over the next two years.

UChicago’s Crime Lab performed a rigorous evaluation of the 2012 One Summer Chicago Plus program. The researchers found it reduced violent crime arrests by 43 percent over a 16-month period. Initial findings of the randomized controlled trial were published in the journal Science in December 2014. Study author Sara Heller, PhD’13, now an assistant professor of criminology at the University of Pennsylvania, found that for the students who participated, all of whom were selected from 13 high-violence Chicago high schools, the program’s effects lasted far beyond the end of the summer.

The Crime Lab’s scientific study of the program was cited as one of the main reasons for the $10 million investment from Inner City Youth Empowerment, LLC, a private entity formed by Hall-of-Famer Earvin Johnson and Mark and Kimbra Walter.

In the news release from Mayor Emanuel’s office, Johnson said, “We are proud to partner on an initiative that has proven to change the trajectory of at-risk kids’ lives.” Mark Walter added, “As a result of the research findings, we felt compelled to help bring this opportunity to a greater number of kids who can benefit.”

Due to the new funding, beginning this summer the program will expand to serve 2,000 youth in 2015 and 3,000 youth in 2016. The program offers part-time summer employment to youth at high risk for violence involvement. The students are paired with an adult mentor who helps with work readiness skills, and assists in teaching youth how to manage thoughts, emotions and behavior that might interfere with employment.

“The City’s partnership with the University of Chicago Crime Lab has generated important evidence about a violence prevention program that works, and that evidence made it a lot easier for our private sector partners to want to invest in its expansion,” said Evelyn Diaz, AM’98, commissioner of the City’s Department of Family & Support Services. “As we grow the program, the opportunity for learning isn’t over. Working with the Crime Lab again this summer, we hope to turn this new investment into actionable information that will help us and other U.S. cities build better programs.”

The Crime Lab will continue to study the program to determine what the most effective intervention strategies are to reduce violence and improve the lives of youth from disadvantaged environments.