Youth violence presents significant challenges across the U.S., disrupts communities and economic development, increases health care costs, and decreases property values—not to mention the human impact. In 2010, Massachusetts was the most violent state in the Northeast—the MA Public Health Council reported 1,667 homicide victims between 2001 and 2010, with nearly 40 percent of them between ages 14 and 24.
The Safe and Successful Youth Initiative (SSYI) is a multifaceted, community-based strategy that combines public health and public safety approaches to eliminating serious violence among high-risk, urban youth ages 14-24. Through 2012, SSYI sites served more than 1,300 youth in communities that include Boston, Brockton, Chelsea, Fall River, Holyoke, Lawrence, Lowell, Lynn, New Bedford, Springfield, and Worcester.
The Massachusetts Executive Office of Health and Human Services contracted with justice experts from AIR’s Health and Social Development program—along with WestEd and the Justice Resource Institute—to study the development and implementation of the Initiative in 11 of the most violent communities across the state. SSYI is implemented in partnership with the Massachusetts Executive Office of Public Safety.
Evaluation of the SSYI
An AIR evaluation, including three outcome studies of the SSYI, was released in December 2014 by then-Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick. The evaluation illustrated positive benefits to the youth involved in the program. Youth who were not involved in SSYI, but had similar violent crime backgrounds, were 42% more likely to be incarcerated than youth who were actively engaged in SSYI services.
According to the 2013 AIR and WestEd national review of programs similar to the SSYI, "Massachusetts is the only state taking a comprehensive, research-based approach to combating violent crime across multiple cities,” said Dr. Patricia E. Campie, principal researcher at AIR. "The combination of a targeted list of high-impact youth offenders, coupled with street outreach workers and case management that connect youth with needed services, has showed promise in reducing violent crime in the cities implementing the interventions."
AIR’s evaluation of 11 communities, including Boston and Springfield, participating in SSYI show a reduction in the number of victims of violent crimes, representing 984 fewer victims in the Commonwealth from 2011 to 2013. In Boston and Springfield alone, the SSYI program prevented nearly $15 million in costs due to violent crime victimization from 2012 to 2013.
Best Practice Review of Evidence
As part of the SSYI study, AIR and WestEd conducted a best practice review of evidence about the effectiveness of violence prevention programs targeted at urban youth. The findings are detailed in What Works to Prevent Urban Violence Among Proven Risk Young Men? The Safe and Successful Youth Initiative (SSYI) Evidence and Implementation Review.
The best practice review of evidence, conducted through a Rapid Evidence Assessment, identified ten effective programs reporting at least a ten percent reduction in violent incidents. These programs shared two common features: use of street outreach workers and connections with community services for high-risk youth (e.g., help finding work and earning a GED).
The review of evidence indicates the importance of integrating an array of community services rather than just addressing gang-related issues. It also makes eight recommendations to guide violence prevention implementation and evaluation of impacts.
Principal investigators for the SSYI study are AIR's Patricia E. Campie and Anthony Petrosino from WestEd.