CHICAGO — In a dozen major cities, there has been a surge in murders in the last two years. Nationally, police data suggests that homicides rose nearly 30% in 2020 and another 7% last year. Most involved guns. But new data from an anti-violence program shows that focusing efforts on the hardest to reach could make all the difference.
37-year-old Diandre Parish has seen a lot of violence in his life.
“Growing up, a lot of friends got killed,” he said.
While hanging out with the wrong people and selling drugs he says he developed a sixth sense about shootings.
“It sounds weird, but I always talked about it before it happened, you know? It's weird, though. When I got shot in the head, my grandmother said he’s gonna go outside to get shot in the head and I got shot in the head,” said Parish.
Diandre’s been shot three times. But now, the father of three is trying to leave that world behind.
“That wasn’t who I was, though. You feel me? I'm a good person. Sometimes it’s just — this world will destroy you,” said Parish.
For the last year, he’s been taking part in an intensive, 18-month program called READI Chicago.
Many of the men in the program have been shot in the past.
“We focus on the people that have been demonized in the population, that's been written off. We focus on individuals who have a proclivity to commit a shooting or homicide or to be a victim of it,” said Dr. Chico Tillmon, executive director of the Heartland Alliance National Initiative around Violence Prevention and READI Chicago.
The goal is to reach individuals who might cause harm inside the community and inside of this population.
They do that by paying the men $15 an hour to go through daily job training and cognitive-behavioral intervention.
“So now they're able to think rationally in those tough moments when they usually act spontaneously,” said Tillmon. “It slows them down for a moment and allows them to think through the process and what could be the potential consequences and ultimately make the right choice.”
Academics at the University of Chicago-led Crime Lab – a data science-driven research program that partners with nearly a dozen other universities across the country – recently completed a study on READI.
They tracked some 2,500 men in the city’s most violent neighborhoods.
“If you just take a step back and think about this, this is a study that is the largest of its kind in the U.S. and in history, as far as we're aware,” said Max Kapustin, an assistant professor of economics and public policy at Cornell University and a researcher with the University of Chicago’s Crime and Education Labs.
“What we found is some promising evidence that involvement in READI Chicago helps reduce the likelihood of being involved in gun violence, in particular mass shootings and homicides,” said Kapustin.
He says their data indicated with 85% confidence that men who went through READI were two-thirds less likely to be arrested for a shooting or murder. They were also nearly 20% less likely to get shot or killed themselves than men who did not take part.
“It's about empowering individuals to have the strength to change their life and to be the author of their life,” said Tillmon.
For participants like Diandre, the cognitive-behavioral training has changed the way he interacts with everyone.
“We’re losing our life out here trying to be tough and don't know how to say no. It ain’t involve me. ‘Hey, I don’t want no problem, bro. No disrespect.’ The program is teaching me how to do that,” he said.
It’s a fundamental change in thinking that could help break a seemingly never-ending cycle of violence.
“I needed the program for me. It teaches me to think better. It helps you out,” said Parish. “Everybody has a story to tell here. If I can’t see your story, then it's a waste of time.”