May 5, 2022

A New Bet for Reducing Gun Violence

Crime Lab highlights results from the READI evaluation.

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Since 2016, the University of Chicago Crime Lab has been helping carry out a randomized controlled trial of READI Chicago – a community violence intervention (CVI) program that combines trauma-informed programming and employment to keep participants safe from gun violence. Last month, we released our full sample, 20-month results from what is now the largest scale CVI demonstration project ever carried out in the United States. As gun violence continues to surge in Chicago and cities across America, these results are directly relevant to questions about how to tackle this pressing crisis.

WHAT THE DATA SHOWS: The READI study is both a scientific exercise and a policy analysis. Science is inherently conservative; social scientists are only willing to change their minds about how the world works if researchers are 95% confident there’s something there; in other fields like particle physics the threshold is often higher still (99.6% or sometimes 99.9996%). From this perspective, the READI results fall something short of definitive. The main results suggest a reduction (19%) in gun violence victimization, a large reduction in shootings and homicide commission (63%), and an increase in arrests for other serious violence (16%). None of these results met the usual social science threshold of 95% confidence.

But there’s also a second goal for evidence: to help policymakers make decisions. While science’s conservatism privileges the status quo, as Nobel laureate Guido Imbens among others have noted policy decisions shouldn’t do the same – especially since the status quo in America is why 35% of READI participants had been shot prior to participating in the program, and why 98% had been arrested, with an average of 17 arrests. Our analysis shows there’s a 6 in 7 (85%) probability that there was a reduction in shootings among READI participants due to the program itself (rather than being a fluke that happened by chance), and our best estimate is that READI returns between $3 and $7 in social good to society for every $1 spent on the program. Who doesn’t want their city to make that bet?

WHAT WE’RE DOING: The READI evaluation is ongoing. We plan to look at outcomes after 40 months, once all 2,456 men in the study have reached that milestone. So, this research is just the start.

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