Crime Lab Choose to Change

Gun violence poses a critical threat to Chicago, and other cities across the country. Gun violence is disproportionately concentrated among young people, and in Chicago, 60% of people arrested for violent crimes in 2015 were under the age of 25, a rate that is almost twice the national average.

Figuring out ways to prevent crime and violence without increasing incarceration is critical, especially given the staggering social and economic costs of incarceration—costs which are borne disproportionately by the very same communities that are hardest hit by violence. To do this, we need to identify interventions that change behavior and successfully engage those youth most likely to be the perpetrators and victims of gun violence.

In the past few years, substantial progress has been made in identifying youth violence prevention programs that change decision making to improve behavior among both school-based and incarcerated populations. Unfortunately, very few violence prevention programs engage those youth at the most elevated risk outside of institutional settings; for example, those who have begun disengaging from school and are becoming involved with the justice system but are not incarcerated.

What if we could effectively target and engage the adolescents at elevated risk for violence involvement in Chicago's most economically marginalized and racially segregated neighborhoods, and provide them with the comprehensive supports they need to succeed?

Choose to Change (C2C): Your Mind, Your Game is a community-based intervention that aims to reduce crime and violence by engaging youth in a six-month program that combines trauma-informed cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) with holistic mentorship and advocacy. The C2C model is jointly delivered by Youth Advocate Programs and Children’s Home & Aid. Referrals are made by community partners that work directly with youth involved in the juvenile justice system and/or who have chronically disengaged from school. C2C is able to engage these young people through an advocate or ("super mentor") who connects with youth and builds the trust needed to engage the young person in programming. C2C aims to build healthy decision-making habits, provides motivation and direction on long-term goals, and helps young people navigate the high-stakes situations they too often encounter in their daily lives.

Since 2015, approximately 500 youth have been served by C2C in the greater Englewood and West Englewood neighborhoods. The Crime Lab has been rigorously studying the effects of this program on youth outcomes using a randomized controlled trial. Preliminary results suggest that participation in the program leads to dramatic decreases in arrests. Based on these promising early findings, and with the continued support of the Chicago Sports Alliance, the City of Chicago, and the Pritzker Pucker Family Foundation, C2C is expanding in 2019 to engage more youth throughout the city of Chicago, including in underserved communities on the west side while also maintaining programming on the south side.

Previous programming was made possible by Get IN Chicago and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Additionally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will support ongoing and future research activities.

To support our partners' delivery of this important work please click here to support Children's Home & Aid and click here to support Youth Advocate Programs.

Choose to Change in the Media

New York Times: "How to End the Cycle of Violence in Chicago"

Fox News: "Amid gun violence crisis, all 5 Chicago pro sports teams funding therapy, mentoring program for at-risk youth"

UChicago News: "Crime Lab announces design competition for new ways to reduce Chicago's youth violence"

UChicago News: "Crime Lab to study three programs in effort to reduce youth violence in Chicago"

Youth Advocate Programs: "Children's Home + Aid and YAP Win Chicago design competition"

To learn more about the program or how to contribute, please contact:

Amanda Whitlock
Children’s Home and Aid

Dave Williams
Youth Advocate Programs, Inc.

To learn more about the evaluation, please contact:

Nour Abdul-Razzak
UChicago Crime and Education Labs

Chicago Sports Alliance