Saturday, June 5, 2010

Anti-Violence Program Increases Violence?

If so, it wouldn’t be the first time that a program designed to “rehabilitate” criminals, wound up making them worse, as some of the studies we posted on here note, and this article from the Pittsburgh Post Gazette reports.

1) An excerpt.

“One of Allegheny County's foremost anti-violence groups has had no impact on homicide rates and, in fact, gun crimes and aggravated assaults increased in neighborhoods where the group focused its efforts, according to a report released Wednesday.

“The nonprofit RAND Corp. found that the efforts of the group, One Vision One Life, might also shift crime and violence from neighborhoods where the group operates to those where it does not.

“Researchers focused on the program's impact on the crime-plagued North Side, South Side and Hill District. Starting in 2006, they studied a decade's worth of crime statistics and spent hundreds of hours observing the organization's outreach workers in the field.

"In many respects, they made heroic efforts to intervene in the lives of people threatened by violence and in need of social support," the report says. "Yet, our evaluation did not find an impact on the level of violence in these Pittsburgh neighborhoods."

“The researchers partly blame "the lack of a systematic, coordinated strategy" between police and One Vision, whose work includes behind-the-scenes intervention in brewing street conflicts, programs for at-risk youth and more visible "rapid response" rallies, during which workers take to the streets in the wake of shootings to voice their message of nonviolence.

“The group's leaders weren't deterred by the 157-page report, and police officials and community leaders lined up to praise the organization, which received $286,000 from Allegheny County's Department of Human Services this year.

“Other agencies and private donors contribute to the more than $1.2 million budget of the organization, which employs about 50 people. Program director El Gray said he was concerned the report would jeopardize the group's funding, but vowed to "press on."

"The question that needs to be asked is how many more shootings and homicides would have occurred if we weren't out there on the streets, intervening and mediating?" he said. "Our street credibility cannot be documented."

2) An excerpt from the Rand Research Brief.

“One Vision work is performed by an executive director, a program director, five area managers, and more than 40 community coordinators, and supported by a data manager. Most staff members were raised in and therefore are intimate with inner-city street life and the “code of the street.”

“RAND Corporation and Michigan State University researchers assessed the effects of the program in three areas of Pittsburgh: Northside, the Hill District, and Southside. All three have per capita incomes below the national average, and two of the three have homicide rates above the city average. Northside is the largest of the three and features a critical hub of legal and illegal activities in the city. It is also undergoing gentrification, a process leading to some community conflict. The Hill District, once a thriving, prosperous, and influential black neighborhood, has suffered a precipitous decline and now has issues with guns, drugs, and individual or group disputes. Southside does not have a homicide rate as high as those in Northside or the Hill District, but its geography and topography help shelter many illegal activities, including drug dealing.

“Within the target communities, community coordinators worked with clients who were typically male, black, about 18 years old, and in need of a wide variety of assistance and services. Fifty percent did not have a job, and 30 percent had a substance-abuse problem. Yet, most were not at high risk for violence, having not been violent recently, in a gang, or in the criminal-justice system. In response to their perceptions of community risk for violence, community coordinators would undertake actions ranging from conflict mediation to outreach to community rallies against violence.

“Program Effects

“To measure the effect of the program on local violence, the researchers used a propensity-score analysis enabling them to compare One Vision neighborhoods with others in the city. They also compared the effects of the program with those suggested by One Vision staff members as being most similar to the analysis areas. Finally, they assessed any “spillover” effects of the program either displacing violence or extending crime-suppression benefits from the target communities to surrounding areas. (Because Northside is largely isolated within the city by the Ohio and Allegheny Rivers, the researchers did not test for spillover effects there.)

“The researchers measured changes in homicide, aggravated assaults, and gun assaults before and after the intervention, controlling for neighborhood attributes, seasonal effects, and trends over time. Rather than finding that One Vision was associated with a measurable reduction in violence, they found the program to have no effect on homicide rates and to be associated with increases in aggravated assaults and gun assaults in all three areas. They also found some “spillover” effects in surrounding areas; specifically, aggravated assaults increased in the “spillover” area neighboring Southside but decreased in that neighboring the Hill District, while gun assaults increased in both the Southside and Hill District spillover areas.”