Reducing gun violence: Chicago, IL
- Creating an entry point to the labor market: Transitional job and re-entry support programs typically provide participants with short-term, paid jobs, subsidized and/or hosted by the program. Job-focused supports are often supplemented by wraparound vocational services, like career coaching and soft skills training. The ultimate goal of transitional employment programs is to facilitate a participant’s transition to unsubsidized, full-time employment.
- Supporting a range of populations: Many transitional employment and support programs are tailored to a specific population. Some, for instance, focus on individuals recently released from prison, while others focus on those most at risk of engaging in or falling victim to violence. Other programs may work with TANF recipients, people with disabilities, and individuals with no job history. The target population often dictates a program’s length: some are just three months, while others can last several years.
- Preparing for stable employment: Transitional employment and re-entry support programs are often delivered in phases. Initially, such programs typically provide workforce readiness training alongside supplemental support services (such as cognitive behavioral therapy, case management, and financial literacy courses). Then, participants are placed in a transitional employment role with daily pay; in many cases, transitional employment is provided by the program itself in areas like beautification or office administration. Finally, programs may offer referrals for full-time employment and ongoing coaching and job retention support to help participants achieve employment stability
- Engaging with public, private, and nonprofit employers: In addition to providing workforce readiness training and transitional employment, many support programs also build a pipeline of employers to hire participants for full-time, unsubsidized work. Across evidence-based programs, employers come from a wide range of sectors, including nonprofits, the public sector, and in private companies. Programs typically attempt to secure a diverse set of partner employers to fit the wide-ranging skillsets and personalities of participants.
Multiple syntheses of rigorous independent studies and evaluations demonstrate that transitional employment and re-entry support programs are associated with increased employment and income.
A 2022 research synthesis concluded that transitional and subsidized jobs were associated with increased employment and income among low-income adults, youth, unemployed individuals, TANF recipients, and individuals recently released from prison. Research also indicates that some strategies can be associated with reduced recidivism.
A 2020 research synthesis of subsidized employment programs found they increased participants' earnings and employment, and reduced recidivism; effects were strongest among those who had been out of the workforce for an extended period, were at higher risk of recidivism, or did not have a high school degree.
A 2016 randomized control trial found that two subsidized employment programs for TANF recipients had positive impacts on earnings and employment, with mixed impacts on benefit receipt.
Results and accomplishments
of eligible individuals who start programming with READI within 20 months of being referred
of READI participants who start transitional employment continue to be employed after six months
of READI participants who start transitional employment are still working after 12 months
- Reaching those most at-risk: The Rapid Employment and Development Initiative (READI) has successfully engaged young men at the highest risk of gun violence in Chicago and has enrolled more than 650 men from five of the city’s most challenged neighborhoods. On average, READI participants have been arrested 17 times; 48 percent have been arrested for a serious violent crime, and 34 percent have been shot.
- Strong enrollment numbers: Despite their deep levels of disconnection, READI’s participants are enrolling in high numbers and persisting through long-term programming. Take-up rates among referrals are more than twice those originally anticipated.
- Channeling funds into disinvested neighborhoods: READI has contributed more than $20 million to community-based organizations in five of Chicago’s most challenged neighborhoods and nearly $9 million in wages and stipends directly to participants
- Promising preliminary results: READI has been implemented with a randomized control trial built into the program model. While final results will not be published until 2023, preliminary findings indicate that men who participated in READI saw reductions in shooting and homicide victimizations and arrests.
Between 2015 and 2016, Chicago saw a 58 percent increase in homicides and a 43 percent increase in non-fatal shootings. Research demonstrated that a relatively small number of young men were responsible for a large proportion of gun violence in the city. At the time, few of these men were being reached by existing community-based programs or services.
To address the spike in gun violence, the University of Chicago Urban Labs and the Heartland Alliance created the Rapid Employment and Development Initiative (READI). Delivered by five community organizations, READI’s approach combines three evidence-based practices for reducing criminal behavior and violence: cognitive behavioral therapy, paid transitional employment, and a variety of personalized wrap-around support services. Participants are the individuals at the highest risk of engaging in or falling victim to gun violence. They are identified through recommendations from individuals or community groups, referrals from the justice system, and by a predictive analytics tool.
Keys to the program’s success include its multiple referral pathways, which ensure it can reach the most at-risk young men; partnerships with established community organizations, which have existing relationships with at-risk young men; a commitment to hiring individuals with relevant lived experience to build trust in the READI model; a commitment to using data and evaluating progress to inform real-time program improvements; and access to justice system data to identify individuals at highest risk.
What was the challenge?
- Concentrated disadvantage: Decades of disinvestment have left Chicago’s South and West Sides plagued by concentrated poverty, lack of economic opportunity, and high rates of violence.
- Gun violence increases: In 2016, gun violence surged to levels not seen since the 1990s. The city experienced a 58% increase in homicides and a 43% increase in non-fatal shootings. 764 people were killed, the highest total in nearly 20 years.
- Unserved residents drive gun violence: Research demonstrated that a relatively small number of young men in a few neighborhoods were driving a large portion of gun violence in Chicago. These men were not being reached by any existing community-based programs or services.
- Existing approach insufficient: In Chicago, like much of the United States, the response to gun violence had focused almost entirely on law enforcement and the criminal legal system. From 2005-2009, more than $260 million was spent per year on incarcerating residents of Chicago’s five most violent neighborhoods.
What was the solution?
- Forming a coalition: In response to the surge in homicides, philanthropic and civic leaders across Chicago came together to identify and invest in evidence-based approaches to reduce gun violence, forming a funder collective known as the Partnership for Safe and Peaceful Communities (PSPC).
- Selecting an evidence-based solution: PSPC, along with the Chicago Sports Alliance and JPMorgan Chase, funds the Rapid Employment and Development Initiative (READI), a program that combines several evidence-based strategies to reduce criminal behavior and violence—cognitive behavioral therapy, paid transitional employment, and a variety of personalized wrap-around support services.
- Sharing expertise: READI is administered by Heartland Alliance, a large anti-poverty non-profit, and delivered by five community-based organizations. The University of Chicago Crime Lab operates as a data analysis and evaluation partner.
- Multiple recruitment pathways: READI participants are identified through three pathways—recommendations from individuals and community-based groups, referrals from partners across the justice system, and a predictive analytics tool developed by the University of Chicago’s Crime Lab.
- "Relentless" recruitment strategies: Target participants are relentlessly engaged, being contacted on average five times before agreeing to participate.
What factors drove success?
- Access to justice system data: Access to extensive justice system data on individuals and sophisticated analysis capability enable READI to ensure that all referred participants are in fact at the highest levels of risk.
- Partnering with trusted organizations: Delivering the READI model through well-established community-based partners makes engaging the hardest-to-reach young men less challenging than it would otherwise be.
- Careful selection of partner organizations: Designing a highly detailed RFP ensured that prospective community-based partners clearly understood the commitment and expectations of delivering the READI model with fidelity and allowed Heartland Alliance to make highly informed decisions about which vendors to partner with.
- Multiple recruitment pathways: READI’s three concurrent referral pathways—individual and community-based referrals, referrals from the justice system, and the predictive analytics tool—ensures that the program can reach the most deeply disconnected young men in five of Chicago’s most challenged neighborhoods.
- Leveraging lived experience: Commitment to hiring individuals with relevant lived experience has been instrumental in building trust and authenticity in both the READI Chicago intervention and its day-to-day service delivery.
- Using data to improve: Collaboration between the University of Chicago Crime Lab and the Social IMPACT team at Heartland Alliance has ensured the collection and analysis of data to inform real-time program improvements and program accountability.
From 2015 to 2016, Chicago experiences a 58% increase in homicides and a 43% increase in non-fatal shootings. 764 people are killed, the highest total in nearly 20 years.
Conversations between the Chicago Sports Alliance and other Chicago philanthropic leaders spark exploration of evidence-based approaches to address the historic surge in gun violence.
The two organizations begin discussions about designing a program grounded in the evidence-base of cognitive behavioral therapy and transitional employment.
Heartland Alliance convenes focus groups with target population and engages in discussions with community organizations, and concept for READI is developed.
READI seeks community based-organizations that combine the right cultural competencies, technical skills, and organizational preparedness to work with young men at the highest levels of risk.
These groups include the Institute for Nonviolence Chicago, the Lawndale Christian Legal Center, UCAN, Centers for New Horizons, North Lawndale Employment Network, and Heartland Human Care Services.
Staff hiring begins, with an emphasis on finding candidates with lived experience that allows them to relate to program participants.
READI’s first referrals come from community-based organizations. Participants are chosen through a lottery to achieve random assignment.
Researchers at University of Chicago’s Crime Lab lead the study, receive data regularly from community-based delivery partners and Heartland Alliance.
In its first year, READI engages 536 men, approximately 219 of whom had started CBT and transitional employment services. In its second year, the program had reaching 771 men, with 515 having started CBT and transitional employment services.
Findings indicate strong preliminary results in READI reducing gun violence involvement and victimization.
By June 2020, 1,227 men had been engaged, and 666 had started CBT and transitional employment services.
Based on the first three years of learning and the impact of COVID-19, READI modifies delivery by accelerating participant exposure to CBT, expanding access to professional development opportunities, and strengthening referrals of additional community services.
How did leaders confront the problem?
- Gun violence increases: Gun violence in Chicago rises dramatically in 2016, with violent crime reaching levels unseen in decades.
- Forming a coalition: In response, 50 Chicago-area foundations and funders come together to form the Partnership for Safe and Peaceful Communities (PSPC). The collective seeks to identify and support community-led, evidence-based strategies to address gun violence that the public sector can eventually invest in and scale.
- Identifying funding: The Chicago Sports Alliance and JPMorgan Chase join together with PSPC to invest in a range of solutions, including READI Chicago.
How was the strategy designed?
- Using evidence-based strategies: The University of Chicago's Crime Lab drew from rigorous research on the effectiveness of cognitive behavioral therapy and transitional employment interventions in conceptualizing a programmatic response to gun violence.
- Listening to the community: In addition to leveraging the evidence base shared by the University of Chicago's Crime Lab, Heartland Alliance designed the READI model using input from individuals who had been directly impacted by gun violence and community partners.
- Multiple recruitment pathways: Three referral processes are designed, with participants referred through community partners, justice system partners, and a predictive analytics tool developed by the UChicago Crime Lab.
- Consistent but decentralized service delivery: The program is structured to be administered by Heartland Alliance and delivered through community-based organizations in order to leverage pre-existing community ties and relationships, while ensuring the development and implementation of consistent practices.
- Evaluation built in: READI's funders commit to investing in a randomized control trial that will run alongside the program as it launches and operates.
How was the approach funded?
- Launching with philanthropic dollars: READI has been funded primarily through private philanthropy during the first three years of implementation. JPMorgan Chase, PSPC and the Chicago Sports Alliance partnered with READI Chicago from the earliest days of program development and remain actively involved.
- Adding local government funding: READI has received increasing levels of funding from the City of Chicago every year but local contributions make up only a fraction of the program's total budget.
- Investing funds back into the community: Through June 2020, READI Chicago invested more than $20 million into community organizations to promote safety and opportunity, as well as more than $9.5 million directly to participants in the form of wages, stipends, and client supports.
How was the plan implemented?
- Careful selection of partners: To deliver the READI model via community-based partners, Heartland Alliance and the Crime Lab created a highly detailed RFP, ensuring that applicants were fully knowledgeable about the specific target population and associated risks, and prepared to deliver the evidence-based model with high fidelity.
- Partners handle service delivery: On a daily basis, partner organizations deliver CBT services, personal coaching and case management, and work readiness training, along with overseeing transitional work crews. The organizations chosen to deliver READI were The Institute for Nonviolence Chicago, the Lawndale Christian Legal Center, UCAN, Centers for New Horizons, North Lawndale Employment Network, and Heartland Human Care Services.
- Prioritizing safety for participants: Safety protocols are updated constantly, dictating nearly all aspects of daily programming and operations, ensuring that young men and staff are safe while participating.
- Centralized coordination and administrative capacity: Heartland Alliance serves as the employer of record for transitional jobs, ensures implementation fidelity, provides training and technical assistance to delivery partners, and coordinates partnerships across the city and with research partners at the University of Chicago.
How was the approach measured and refined?
- Integrating independent evaluation: As the subject of a randomized control trial, READI collects and analyzes extensive data on participant activities and outcomes. Data is collected by community partners and Heartland Alliance and shared with the University of Chicago’s Crime Lab for evaluation.
- Responding to what works: As early data demonstrated the positive impact of CBT programming, the model shifted to deliver nearly twice the “dose” of CBT treatment to participants. Participants also now receive additional work readiness training before beginning transitional employment.
- Improving over time: Safety of participants and staff is a top priority and an ongoing focus. Since launch, the program has increased safety and security measures to incorporate metal detectors and professional security staff at programming locations.
- Evaluating potential changes: READI is experimenting with shortening the program’s duration and evaluating if similar outcomes can be generated for participants in 12 months rather than 18 months.
Results for America would like to thank the following individuals for their help in completing this case study: Barbara Hoffman, Eddie Bocanegra, and Jane Bodmer of Heartland Alliance; Roseanna Ander, Max Kapustin, and Monica Bhatt of the University of Chicago’s Crime Lab; Owen Washburn of JPMorgan Chase; and Rachel Barker.