A Program Reduces Involvement in Violent Crime

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A Program Reduces Involvement in Violent Crime

Jim Windell


          You don’t need research or statistics to tell you that the level of gun violence in this country is astounding. No matter what city you live in, it would be a rare day if there wasn’t a news report about another murder in your town. We are all too familiar with the fact that hundreds of mass shootings occur every year.

          But the statistics puts a finer point on the extent of gun violence in the United States. According to the CDC, in 2021, the most recent year for which complete data is available, 48,830 people died from gun-related injuries in the U.S. About eight out of 10 murders in this country in that year – 20,958 out of 26,031, or 81% – involved a firearm. That marked the highest percentage since at least 1968, the earliest year for which the CDC has online records.

          Furthermore, more than half of all suicides in 2021 – 26,328 out of 48,183, or 55% – also involved a gun, the highest percentage since 2001. And the record 48,830 total gun deaths in 2021 reflect a 23% increase since 2019, before the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. The overall increase in U.S. gun deaths since the beginning of the pandemic includes an especially stark rise in such fatalities among children and teens under the age of 18. Gun deaths among children and teens rose 50% in just two years, from 1,732 in 2019 to 2,590 in 2021.

          Recognizing that we have this problem, what can we do about it? Can anything be done to reduce gun violence?

          Those questions are central to an article published recently in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Reporting on a study in Chicago, new research shows large reductions in gun violence involvement for participants of a Chicago-based community violence intervention (CVI) program.

          In the study, researchers from Northwestern University evaluated outcomes for the Chicago CRED (Create Real Economic Destiny) program and found that those who completed the full program were more than 73% less likely to have an arrest for a violent crime in the two years following enrollment compared to individuals who did not participate.

          When analyzing program participation, the researchers found that all CRED program participants experienced some programmatic benefits, but “alumni” who had completed the full 24-month program had the best outcomes. The study was led by the Center for Neighborhood Engaged Research and Science (CORNERS) at Northwestern and this first-of-its-kind study aimed to fill a gap in empirical evidence on the effectiveness of CVI programs at the individual level.

          According to Andrew Papachristos, lead investigator for the research, “CRED changed participants’ involvement in ways that were under their direct control. They were less involved in gun assaults and related behavior that they themselves initiated. Yet the sheer scale and complexity of gun violence means that even such changes in the behavior of a few hundred CRED participants is insufficient to protect them from violent victimization.”

          The study was conducted by comparing a sample of 324 men recruited by CRED outreach staff from 2016 to 2021 with a balanced comparison sample of 2,500 men from a network of individuals arrested in CRED’s service areas. The researchers then conducted a Bayesian survival analysis to evaluate CRED’s effect on individual violence-related outcomes on three levels of treatment: all enrolled participants, a subsample that made it through the initial phase, and those that completed the program.

          The researchers, based on the results of the study, were able to make three primary recommendations that they believe could lower the rate of firearm victimization:

  1. Addressing barriers to program participation: Because the greatest impact is associated with successful completion of the program, neighborhood, social, economic and educational factors should be addressed.
  2. Scaling up: Programs like CRED are vital to reaching those in need of such services. Currently for every participant enrolled, there are three others with comparable needs within CRED-service areas.
  3. Integrating CVI programs: Changing individual behavior is not enough, CVI efforts should be combined with larger efforts in the community such as economic development and safety.

          Papachristos, who is the John G. Searle Professor and chair of sociology, faculty director of CORNERS and the director of the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern, concludes that the study findings are significant. He indicates that they are important because they will allow researchers to unpack the reasons why changes in victimization might not have reached levels of statistical significance in the same way as broader involvement in gun violence.

          To read the original article, find it with this reference:

Ross, M. C., Ochoa, E. M., & Papachristos, A. V. (2023). Evaluating the impact of a street outreach intervention on participant involvement in gun violence. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 120(46), e2300327120.

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