Study: Program for At-Risk Youth Cuts Arrests by 35 Percent

A new study finds a program that works with at-risk young men in Chicago schools reduced overall arrests in the group by 35 percent, violent crime arrests by 50 percent and boosted on-time high school graduation for participants by 19 percent.

Becoming A Man aims to help group members rethink their responses to high-stress and potentially dangerous situations. The program serves 2,751 young men in 50 Chicago schools and hopes to reach 3,200 youth next year. During the academic year, participants attend hourlong weekly group sessions.

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“Many people, I think, believe that teenagers or teenage behavior is something that you can't really change usually, and I think this evidence, this study, shows that that's not the case,” said Will Hobart, chief program officer for Youth Guidance, the nonprofit that operates Becoming a Man.

Related: Study: Slow Thinking Reduces Crime in Chicago

The program, now in its 15th year, has been lauded for its successes by Mayor Rahm Emanuel and President Barack Obama. Emanuel said the results of this study “confirm what we already know about the remarkable effects of the Becoming A Man program, and also affirm that an investment in our children’s futures is the most important investment we can make in Chicago’s future.” 

The University of Chicago’s Crime Lab estimates for every $1 invested, BAM yields up to $30 worth of societal benefits from reductions in crime alone.

“When you also factor in things like the increase in high school graduation and the future earnings that are likely to be generated as a result of that high school diploma, that benefit-cost ratio is possibly much higher,” said Julia Quinn from the University of Chicago Crime Lab.

Getting participants in touch with their feelings is key to the program, said Phillip Cusic, program manager of Becoming A Man.

“One of the BAM values is positive anger expression,” Cusic said. “We talk about moving away from savage energy to moving to a warrior energy. Everyone gets angry, that’s normal. But it's what do we do with our anger. And so these young people actually have a chance to slow down, think about what’s happening with them, and respond in a different way.”

Like many of the program participants, Cusic experienced violence when he was growing up in Gary, Indiana, during his formative years.

“Gary was the murder capital of the world,” he said. “My best friend was shot and killed by a young man who could have benefitted from the BAM program. All it took was one moment in time for him to pull the trigger and take my friend’s life. But if he’d had the opportunity to slow down his thinking and to make a decision based on values like integrity, accountability, self-determination, positive anger expression and visionary goal setting, and respect for womanhood, it would have been something totally different.”

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