What Works to Prevent Urban Violence Among Proven Risk Young Men?
The Safe and Successful Youth Initiative (SSYI) Evidence and Implementation Review
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 Health Council reported 1,667 homicide victims between 2001 and 2010, with nearly 40 percent of them between ages 14 and 24.
The Massachusetts Executive Office of Health and Human Services contracted with justice experts from AIR—along with WestEd and the Justice Resource Institute—to study the development and implementation of the Safe and Successful Youth Initiative (SSYI) in 11 of the most violent communities across the state. The 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.
As part of the SSYI study, researchers 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 and supports 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 reveals eight recommendations to guide violence prevention implementation and evaluation of impacts:
- Focus on youth at highest risk for future violence.
- Pay attention to youth on the cusp of highest risk, even if they are not yet classified as proven risk.
- Effectively communicate to targeted offenders that they will receive services to help them leave the criminal lifestyle.
- Train and supervise outreach workers to minimize “backfire” effects, which can unintentionally increase gang activity.
- Implement programs with adequate staff, resources, and expertise.
- Collaborate with multiple city agencies and community members, including business leaders with organizational management expertise.
- Use data continuously to strategically address population shifts and violence drivers.
- Conduct long-term studies to calculate returns on investment, accounting for broader (and generational) contexts.
Findings in the review of evidence will guide efforts in Massachusetts to implement SSYI and evaluate impact. All programs included in the review were focused at the city level, making SSYI a potential model for states looking to apply a similar program across multiple cities. Next steps for AIR and partners include evaluation of youth outcomes and SSYI site performance (see “Evaluation of SSYI Sites,” below, for more information).
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. SSYI is implemented in partnership with the Massachusetts Executive Office of Public Safety.
Principal investigators for the SSYI study are Patricia E. Campie of the American Institutes for Research and Anthony Petrosino from WestEd. Authors of the review of evidence include Campie, Petrosino, and staff from WestEd and Justice Resource Institute. Related reports include: Strategies to Prevent Urban Violence and Practice Guidelines for the Delivery of Trauma-Informed and GLBTQ Culturally-Competent Care.
For more information, contact Patricia E. Campie, principal researcher, at email@example.com.
Evaluation of SSYI Sites
To evaluate SSYI’s implementation strategies and determine how well youth respond to the range of interventions provided, researchers are using a nascent methodology: an incremental response approach to gauge how high-risk urban youth achieve stability. This approach tracks youth progress through milestones achieved—such as no longer identifying with a street gang or re-enrolling in school—en route to longer-term goals (e.g., crime-free lifestyle, high school graduation). This approach will allow researchers to more accurately measure the success of violence prevention strategies for this population and develop levels of outreach and support needed. It will also aid SSYI and future programs by advancing the science behind interventions for high-risk urban youth.