More Reads on Chicago Crime: What Works?

Philadelphia adopts CeaseFire in order to combat that city’s higher murder rate (which, like Chicago, is up this year), and the University of Chicago’s Crime Lab looks at a program that combines sports and cognitive behavioral therapy. Plus: Al Jazeera examines Chicago crime.

The national media has gotten dinged for not paying sufficient attention to the rise in homicides in Chicago this year, but there’s good stuff out there even if it’s not always in national papers or national broadcast media:

* In the Nation, Jeff Deeney, a social worker and writer based in Philadelphia, looks at CeaseFire in the age of austerity. What does that have to do with Chicago? Philadelphia’s also seen a spike in homicides this year, and they’re giving CeaseFire a try too. Gary Slutkin, whose research inspired the program, cites cutbacks to it as a cause in the spike:

Slutkin sees Chicago’s recent uptick in violence as symptomatic of how much the city has come to rely on his program. Indeed, a similar phenomenon occurred in 2008, when a temporary pause in CeaseFire’s efforts was accompanied by a spike in violence. He notes that infectious diseases like tuberculosis and measles similarly return when public health efforts to control them are abandoned.

“This is a wave on top of a wave [of violence] that began last fall when Ceasefire temporarily dropped off from ninety-nine to fifty-three outreach workers,” he says, noting, “CeaseFire has added outreach workers in response.” He also points to the fact that CeaseFire workers only cover a third of the city—and in those areas there have not been spikes in violence.

How bad is it in Philadelphia this year? According to RedEye’s homicide tracker (where Tracy Swartz reports that August has been the year’s deadliest month, with 54 homicides as of the 29th), there have been 359 homicides so far. In Philadelphia, about half the size, there have been 233, a 14 percent increase over last year. As in Chicago, one of the theories is that the warm winter got Philadelphia off to a bad start, as Deeney wrote back at the end of January.

* In the Washington Monthly, an excellent, undersung D.C.-based magazine, Kathleen Geier examines another local social program meant to stop violence before it starts:

Recently, my friend Harold Pollack, a professor at the University of Chicago, co-directed a rigorous, large-scale study of a violence prevention program for at-risk youth in the Chicago Public Schools…. Sometimes, social programs that initially appear to effective never live up to their early promise, because they end up being too expensive, or too difficult to replicate. But according to Pollack, that does not appear to be true of this program. He says that this program “remarkable” due to its “relatively limited number of contact hours, its scalability, and the relatively low cost….”

The program is called “Becoming a Man—Sports Edition,” and is based on basic cognitive-behavior principles: “developing skills related to emotional regulation, control of stress response, improved social-information processing, interpersonal problem solving, goal setting and attainment, and personal integrity.” And the number of contact hours really were limited: “The in-school program offered youth the chance to participate in up to 27 one-hour small-group sessions…. Sessions met once per week during the school day over eight months of the school year. Each session, built around an explicitly articulated lesson, was designed to develop a specific skill and included an out-of-class homework assignment to practice and apply that skill.” (The mean GPA of the youth was a D-plus, and students missed, on average, six weeks of the previous school year.)

Once a week for eight months isn’t particularly intense, but the authors found that it had a noticable impact (emphasis theirs):

Our findings show that program participation significantly increased school engagement and performance by 0.14 standard deviations during the program year and by 0.19 standard deviations in the follow-up year, impacts that imply future graduation rate increases of about 10 to 23 percent of the control group’s graduation rate. Program participation also reduced violent crime arrests by 44 percent (8 fewer arrests per 100 participants) and arrests in the ‘other’ (miscellaneous) category, which includes vandalism and weapons crime, by 36 percent (11.5 fewer arrests per 100 participants) during the program year.

The cost per head was $1,100, a bit less than 10 percent of per-pupil CPS funding. I have to admit a bit of partiality to it because of its integration of sports with cognitive-behavioral therapy, in a period when, as Ben Joravsky has written many times, CPS has struggled to fund athletics. If it seems surprising that a good-government advocate like Joravsky would be so intent on funding games, it’s a reminder that, treated rationally, they can be a force for social good.

* And beyond the national media, Al Jazeera recently did a lengthy, in-depth report (Harold Pollack makes an appearance):

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