UChicago Crime Lab Reduces Youth Violence And Secures Millions Of Dollars In Funding

Students participate in a deep breathing exercise as they learn about self-control and relaxing during their weekly BAM session at a Chicago Public School. Photo by Robert Kozloff/University of Chicago.


The University of Chicago Crime Lab has been busy since receiving its ITM Pilot Award in 2012, evaluating strategies to reduce youth violence in Chicago and receiving a combined $7 million from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

That work is addressing a huge problem. Between September 2008 and April 2010, more than 610 Chicago Public School students were shot. Only about half of high school students in major cities graduate, and by the time many of those children reach high school they can be up to seven grade levels behind in subjects like math.
“If kids don’t stay engaged, they have a high probability of dropping out, and once they drop out they have a high probability of being either victims or perpetrators of crime,” said Harold Pollack, PhD, co-director of the Crime Lab and associate director of the ITM.“The kids have to be tough. They don’t have a lot of margin for error, academically or in many other areas in their lives, and so we want to give them a realistic way to follow a road map.”

Harold Pollack

Harold Pollack, PhD, co-director of the UChicago Crime Lab and associate director of the ITM. Photo by Kyle Zimmerman.

That “road map” took the form of targeted interventions over the course of six months for 106 male 9th and 10th graders on Chicago’s South Side – and it led to a decrease in school misconduct, course failures, absenteeism and violent crime. Students’ math scores also improved by the equivalent of about three years’-worth of learning.

The interventions involved a two-pronged approach.

The non-academic prong was the Becoming a Man (BAM) program, developed and implemented by Chicago nonprofit Youth Guidance, which focuses on social-cognitive skills and is based on cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). BAM also included an after-school sports program, offered in partnership with nonprofit World Sport Chicago.

Pollack said the ITM’s funding helped the Crime Lab quickly add the second prong – an intensive math tutoring component based on the model of Boston’s Match Education.

“The ITM Pilot funding really allowed us to take that next step to see what we could get by including this tutoring,” Pollack said. “What we found were very significant benefits to the pilot intervention and dramatic improvement in kids’ school performance, which provided the basis for an NIH grant. This grant will support the expansion of the BAM and Match programs as well as our current larger-scale study of these programs, in turn growing the impact of this work to benefit not only Chicago but also other cities as well.”
The P01 grant from the NIH’s Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development awarded the Crime Lab $6 million and Chicago Public Schools provided the BAM and Match programs with $4 million. The Crime Lab also earned $1 million as one of seven nonprofits worldwide recognized with a 2014 MacArthur Award for Creative and Effective Institutions.

What makes the Crime Lab’s work unique is that it is evaluating its interventions using the same rigorous methods applied to clinical trials in medical research.

And the data speaks for itself.

The interventions increased expected graduation rates by about 50 percent, decreased course failures by about 60 percent and resulted in about 2.5 more weeks of school attended per year – all of which researchers said would have an impact on violence.

Based on an almost 70 percent reduction in school misconduct in a comparative trial, researchers predict a decrease in violent crime arrests over the next two years by an estimated 50 to 60 percent and a drop in drug-related arrests by about 40 to 50 percent.

“We got a lot of attention for the results that we achieved with our pilot, and that was something the ITM really helped make possible,” Pollack said, with publications like The New York Times covering the project and U.S. and international agencies reaching out to collaborate.

While the research team got a lot of credit for the data, Pollack said there were many other people involved in the schools who changed the students’ lives.

“Our partners just did an amazing job implementing the intervention,” Pollack said. “They deserve to see the value of their work noted.”

A BAM counselor congratulates students and hands out T-shirts as they pass the halfway mark in the program. Photo by Robert Kozloff/University of Chicago.

Those collaborators included the Crime Lab’s multidisciplinary team of economists, public health researchers, psychologists and education experts, along with Chicago Public Schools, the Chicago Police Department, the City of Chicago and nonprofit partners Match Education and Youth Guidance.

The results of the 2012-2013 study were published by the National Bureau of Economic Research in January 2014, and the Crime Lab is currently running a large-scale study based on the pilot in 21 Chicago Public Schools.
“The most important thing for people to note is that we have effective interventions that can help,” Pollack said. “No one of these interventions is going to be the polio vaccine that’s going to end youth violence. But if we methodically pursue evidence-informed interventions, we can really make a difference for kids in Chicago and in every other city across the United States.”
 Hear about the impact the University of Chicago Crime Lab is having in the words of the student participants and tutors by watching this video, and get involved with the Crime Lab by reaching Harold Pollack at haroldp@uchicago.edu.


By Sara Serritella/UChicago ITM
Copyright © 2015 University of Chicago Institute for Translational Medicine (ITM). All Rights Reserved.