Conventional crime-prevention programs tend to be expensive, onerous, and ineffective. Could something as simple (and cheap) as cognitive behavioral therapy(CBT) do the trick? That’s the question we try to answer in this episode. It’s set in Chicago, where violent crimecontinues to thrive(its homicide rate is more than triple New York’s). Chicago is also home to theCrime Labat the University of Chicago, a network of researchers who try to find empirical solutions to crime and violence.
What Heller and her colleagues wanted to know was whether a lot of criminal and other “maladaptive” behavior by troubled young men in Chicago was caused by too much System 1 thinking, too much “automaticity.” And if so, could that automaticity be disrupted by some simple behavioral interventions?
The researchers set out to measure the efficacy of a program calledBecoming a Man. It’s run by a charismatic, up-from-the-streets psychologist namedTony DiVittorio. BAM is not about vocational training or academic support or cash incentives; it doesn’t require a long-term commitment or a lot of money. But, apparently, it works — as does a similar program in theCook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Centerthat also uses CBT.
The conclusion of Heller et al. is quite startling: it would seem that, for all the billions of dollars spent on complicated anti-crime programs, something as simple and cheap as CBT seems more effective in reducing crime (and, not unrelatedly, keeping teenagers in school).
Along the way, you’ll also hearSteve Levitttalk about his efforts, on behalf of the Chicago Public Schools, to identify the students most in danger of being shot. (His paper, co-authored withDana ChandlerandJohn List, is called “Predicting and Preventing Shootings Among At-Risk Youth.”) Levitt is the first to admit that their methods weren’t all that great at predicting who would get shot — and that the CPS’s efforts to prevent shootings were even less effective.
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If the research results of Sara Heller and her colleagues turn out to be reliable, this is very good news indeed for anyone who cares about crime (which is, presumably, just about everyone, especially would-be criminals). In next week’s episode, we follow another story of CBT-as-crime-prevention, but this timein Liberia.