MORE ABOUT THE STRATEGY USED IN THIS CASE STUDY Gun violence prevention, Community-led violence prevention



  • 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.

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.


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.

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Implementation process

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.