Preventing Youth Violence and Dropout: A Randomized Field Experiment
Improving the long-term life outcomes of disadvantaged youth remains a top policy priority in the United States, although identifying successful interventions for adolescents - particularly males - has proven challenging. This paper reports results from a large randomized controlled trial of an intervention for disadvantaged male youth grades 7-10 from high-crime Chicago neighborhoods. The intervention was delivered by two local non-profits and included regular interactions with a pro-social adult, after-school programming, and - perhaps the most novel ingredient - in-school programming designed to reduce common judgment and decision-making problems related to automatic behavior and biased beliefs, or what psychologists call cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). We randomly assigned 2,740 youth to programming or to a control group; about half those offered programming participated, with the average participant attending 13 sessions. Program participation reduced violent-crime arrests during the program year by 8.1 per 100 youth (a 44 percent reduction). It also generated sustained gains in schooling outcomes equal to 0.14 standard deviations during the program year and 0.19 standard deviations during the follow-up year, which we estimate could lead to higher graduation rates of 3-10 percentage points (7-22 percent). Depending on how one monetizes the social costs of crime, the benefit-cost ratio may be as high as 30:1 from reductions in criminal activity alone.
This project was supported by the University of Chicago's Office of the Provost, Center for Health Administration Studies, and the School of Social Service Administration, as well as NICHD award R21HD061757, CDC grant 5U01CE001949-02 to the University of Chicago Center for Youth Violence Prevention, grants from the Joyce, MacArthur, McCormick, Polk, and Spencer foundations, the Exelon corporation, and the Chicago Community Trust, and visiting scholar awards to Jens Ludwig from the Russell Sage Foundation and LIEPP at Sciences Po. We are grateful to the staff of Youth Guidance and World Sport Chicago (the two non-profit organizations that implemented the intervention we study here), to Wendy Fine of Youth Guidance, who designed and implemented required program data systems, to the Chicago Public Schools, to the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority for providing Illinois Criminal History Record Information (CHRI) data through an agreement with the Illinois State Police, and to Ellen Alberding, Jon Baron, Dan Black, Laura Brinkman, Carol Brown, Kerwin Charles, Philip Cook, Stephen Coussens, Hon. Richard M. Daley, Christine Devitt Westley, Ken Dodge, Steve Gilmore, Jonathan Guryan, Hon. Curtis Heaston, Ron Huberman, Brian Jacob, Rachel Johnston, Ilyana Kuziemko, Ben Lahey, Ann Marie Lipinski, John MacDonald, Sonya Malunda, Jeanne Marsh, Michael Masters, Michael McCloskey, Al McNally, Ernst Melchior, Douglas Miller, Michelle Morrison, Duff Morton, Sendhil Mullainathan, Mark Myrent, Derek Neal, Stacy Norris, Amy Nowell, Devah Pager, Steve Raudenbush, Sean Reardon, Thomas Rosenbaum, Anuj Shah, David Showalter, Sebastian Sotelo, Laurence Steinberg, Ashley Van Ness, Nina Vinik, Paula Wolff, and Sabrina Yusuf for valuable assistance and suggestions. We also thank seminar participants at the Boeing Corporation, Case Western University, Columbia University, Duke University, Erasmus University, Harvard University, the MacArthur Foundation, National Bureau of Economic Research, New York City Department of Probation, the joint New York Federal Reserve / New York University education workshop, Stanford University, the University of Chicago, University of Miami, and the University of Virginia for valuable comments. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health or the Centers for Disease Control. All opinions and any errors are our own. The views expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Bureau of Economic Research.