Researchers at the University of Chicago are touting early signs of success for READI Chicago, an ambitious effort to provide services to the men closest to the city’s gun violence.
“We're learning that READI is finding the right guys, that they're taking up the program and that they're sticking with the program,” University of Chicago Crime Lab Senior Research Director Monica Bhatt said.
The University of Chicago’s Crime Lab is a partner in READI, which stands for Rapid Employment and Development Initiative and was launched as a response to Chicago’s historic spike in gun violence in 2016.
READI is designed to find the men most likely to shoot or be shot, and then provide them with a job and cognitive behavioral therapy which trains the men to cope with trauma and avoid violent confrontations. The people behind READI believe that if they can get the right services to the right men, it could make entire neighborhoods safer. They hope that the program, which costs about $20,000 per year per participant, will eventually be funded by the city of Chicago taxpayers.
An evaluation of whether it’s worked to bring down gun violence won’t be completed until spring of 2021. But Bhatt said they are encouraged by preliminary numbers.
Those early numbers show that half of the men invited into the READI program joined it, and of those who took it up, 61% stayed on for at least a year. Bhatt said both of those numbers are much higher than they expected when the program launched in September 2017.
And Bhatt said it’s especially impressive because the analysis also shows they are truly reaching the men at the epicenter of Chicago’s gun violence.
“The men who are involved in READI Chicago are over 70 times more likely than the average Chicagoan to be involved in serious violence, which is a staggering number even for those of us who work in the violence prevention space,” Bhatt said.
Saidrick Berry is a participant at READI’s Englewood location. He’s been in READI for a little more than a year, and he said it has opened up “so many” doors for him.
“I went on so many interviews and met so many people. I’ve leveled up in the program, I’ve leveled up in life,” Berry said.
Berry has done prison time for drug dealing and he was shot during an attempted car-jacking when he was 19. He said at the time he had a “street mentality” that required him to fight back. He jumped out of his car and tried to disarm the carjacker which is when he was hit by a bullet that almost took his life.
According to the University of Chicago analysis, that makes Berry a typical READI participant. According to the school’s data, more than 70% of the guys in READI have been shot before, and more than 90% have at least one previous arrest.
Berry is also currently living with his sister. He says his felony status makes it impossible for him to find a landlord who will rent to him.
Bhatt said about 30% of the READI participants are dealing with “housing instability,” like Berry, meaning they’re crashing with a family member, couch surfing or even homeless.
Bhatt said the numbers have given them “a glimmer” of the “enormous challenges” facing men like Berry, and it’s prompting them to try and expand what kind of help they are offering.
“These are the kinds of things we're learning and we can learn about this population, because it's the first time that many of them have been engaged and connected to social services,” Bhatt said. “This is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what we're going to learn about their needs and how to be able to better serve and address their needs in the future.”
One other thing researchers have learned is that the majority of the men in READI have children. The program is specifically aimed at adult men, because they make up the majority of gun violence victims and perpetrators. But READI Senior Director Eddie Bocanegra said the fact that so many participants have families means they can have a big impact on “stopping the cycle of violence,” by giving the men in the program the tools to cope with trauma.
Jacquay Carr recently graduated out of READI, which lasts 18 months. He’s got a full time job now. And he said the program has helped him better communicate with his two daughters, ages 6 and 12.
Carr said READI helped him get out of the mentality of doing “whatever it takes to feed” his kids, without worrying about other consequences.
“That mentality of ‘whatever to feed my kids’ landed me in prison a few times,” Carr said. “I mean I’ve always loved my kids … I just, I look forward to being something they can be proud of.”