Projects by Crime Lab Affiliates

Hawaii's Opportunity Probation with Enforcement (HOPE) Coerced Abstinence

Most probation and parole departments across the U.S. suffer from heavy case loads, and as a result violations of probation or parole conditions are not regularly detected and/or punished. When violations do result in punishment, this often happens only with considerable administrative delay, and particularly in the case of probation violations, the sanction often comes in the form of a long, expensive jail term. Hawaii's HOPE program, being evaluated by Crime Lab member, Angela Hawken, seeks to increase the swiftness and certainty of punishment for probation violations using mild rather than drastic sanctions. Launched in 2004 by Judge Steven Alm, probationers convicted of a felony offense are subject to more frequent and random drug testing. "Dirty tests" result in almost immediate short jail stays, which can be served on weekends by employed probationers. Repeat violations lead to more severe sanctions, which could include the requirement of extended stays in drug treatment. Encouraging preliminary results have led Hawaii's legislature to expand the pilot program to 1,000 of the 7,200 felony probationers on Oahu. Final results from Hawken's HOPE study are scheduled for release in Spring 2009.
HOPE Research Brief
H.O.P.E. for Reform


Hot Spot Policing

Several decades ago James Q. Wilson and George Kelling argued in a famous essay in the Atlantic that social disorder, when untended, might fuel more serious crime -- the so-called "broken windows" hypothesis. Despite widespread claims that "zero tolerance" policing in New York drove the city's crime drop in the 1990s, relatively little reliable evidence is currently available about the effects of this strategy. Crime Lab member Anthony Braga has recently completed an experiment that randomly assigned some crime "hot spots" but not others in the city of Lowell, Massachusetts to receive problem-oriented policing to address social disorder rather than standard police strategies. The intervention was found to generate significant reductions in crime and disorder calls for service, as well as signs of social and physical disorder, which seemed to be due mostly to police use of situational prevention strategies rather than to misdemeanor arrests or social service referrals. No evidence of significant crime displacement was found.
Breakthrough on 'broken windows'
Cleaning up crime in Lowell


Project Safe Neighborhoods Chicago

A research team led by Crime Lab member Tracey Meares has been working to evaluate the effects of Chicago's federally-funded Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN) Offender Notification Forums. The goal of the forums is to change the attitudes of convicted felons who are re-entering society about the legitimacy of law enforcement, by having law enforcement agencies, social service providers and community members together provide a targeted message about social service assistance and legal labor market opportunities as well as about the criminal justice risks of illegal activity.

Homicide and Gun Violence in Chicago: Evaluation and Summary of the Project Safe Neighborhoods Program


Housing policies to de-concentrate urban poverty

Does growing up in a distressed, dangerous public housing project increase the risks that youth become involved in crime and violence? Crime Lab member Jens Ludwig is working on two ongoing projects that seek to answer this question. Ludwig is serving as project director for the long-term evaluation of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's Moving to Opportunity (MTO) residential mobility experiment, which was launched in 1994 in five cities (Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, LA, and New York), with eligibility limited to families with children living in some of the nation's most disadvantaged public housing projects. Via random lottery some families but not others are given the opportunity to relocate to less distressed and dangerous neighborhoods. Evidence from a 5 year follow up found a more complicated pattern of results, with MTO moves causing short-term reductions in violent crime arrests for both boys and girls, but after several years some increase in property-crime arrests for male youth. The 10 year evaluation is currently out in the field with funding from the Federal office of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), National Institutes of Health (NIH), National Science Foundation, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. Department of Education, and the Gates, MacArthur, Russell Sage, Smith Richardson and Spencer foundations, and will examine youth involvement with crime and risky behavior as well as other related outcomes such as schooling attainment, mental and physical health, and basic decision making processes such as future orientation. Results should be available sometime in 2010.

Ludwig is also working with Crime Lab member Brian Jacob to study the effects of a separate housing mobility intervention in Chicago. In 1997 the city of Chicago opened its housing voucher program wait list for the first time in a dozen years, and more than 82,000 families applied -- far more than the number of vouchers that is available. For reasons of fairness, the firm running the city's housing voucher program randomly assigned applicants to the voucher program wait list, which lends itself to an evaluation that is as rigorous as any planned randomized experiment. For families living in public housing at baseline, receipt of a voucher leads to large changes in community environments. For families living in private housing at the time they applied to the program, voucher receipt is essentially equivalent to a massive increase in family resources. Jacob and Ludwig will use administrative data to measure voucher program impacts on youth criminal involvement using arrest histories, and will also examine related outcome domains such as schooling attainment and involvement with the formal labor market.