Crime Lab Choose to Change

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Gun Violence poses a critical threat to the vitality and wellbeing of the City of Chicago and its residents. Last year, the city experienced a nearly 60 percent increase in homicides, erasing much of the long-term progress made in reducing violent crime since the 1990s.

Historically, the response to an increase in violence of this magnitude has been to increase arrests and incarceration. However, this approach has staggering social and economic costs, which are often born disproportionately by the very same communities that are hardest hit by violence. To address this challenge humanely and effectively, we need to identify interventions that change behavior and successfully engage those individuals most likely to be the perpetrators and victims of gun violence.

In the past few years, substantial progress has been made in identifying youth violence prevention programs that change decision making to improve behavior among both school-based and incarcerated populations. Unfortunately, very few violence prevention programs engage those youth at the most elevated risk outside of institutional settings, for example those who have begun disengaging from school and are becoming involved with the justice system but are not incarcerated. Rather, programs often work with the young people who raise their hands to participate. This has been a persistent challenge for using social policy as a tool for crime prevention. What if we could effectively target and engage the adolescents at highest risk for violence involvement in Chicago's most economically marginalized and racially segregated neighborhoods, and provide them with the comprehensive supports they need to succeed?

Choose to Change (C2C): Your Mind, Your Game is a community based intervention that aims to reduce violence by engaging youth in a five-month program that combines trauma-informed cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) with holistic mentorship and advocacy. Delivered by Youth Advocate Programs and Children's Home + Aid, C2C targets and engages youth who are gang affiliated, on juvenile probation, guilty of weapons offenses, disengaged from school, or who have a past history of being victims or witnesses of trauma. C2C is able to engage these young people through an advocate or ("super mentor") who connects with youth and builds the trust needed to engage the young person in helpful programming like CBT. C2C aims to build healthy decision making habits and help young people navigate the high-stakes situations they too often encounter in their daily lives.

Since 2015, approximately 440 youth have been served by C2C in the Englewood and West Englewood neighborhoods. The Crime Lab has been rigorously studying the effects of this program on youth outcomes using a randomized controlled trial. Preliminary results suggest that participation in the program leads to decreases in arrests. Based on these promising early findings, C2C is expanding in 2018 to serve more youth.

To support this important work and to help us reach more youth in Chicago, click here.

Choose to Change in the Media

UChicago News: "Crime Lab announces design competition for new ways to reduce Chicago's youth violence"

UChicago News: "Crime Lab to study three programs in effort to reduce youth violence in Chicago"

Youth Advocate Programs: "Children's Home + Aid and YAP Win Chicago design competition"