What if someone said that you could drastically reduce crime rates without resorting to coercive policing or even incarceration? What if they claimed that you could prevent an aggravated crime, such as an armed robbery, for example, or perhaps even a murder simply by paying $1.50?
It’s an incredible offer that it’s almost too amazing to be true. It’s actually proven through the work conducted by Chris Blattman, Margaret Sheridan, Julian Jamison, and Sebastian Chaskel. Their research gives evidence experimental that giving at-risk people some weeks of behavioral therapy along with a small amount of money can reduce the risk of violence and crime for example, even after 10 years of the treatment.
Blattman who is an economics professor at the University of Chicago never planned to conduct the study. In 2009 when he was out and about with a friend in Liberia known as Johnson Borh, who showed him around Monrovia, the capital city, Monrovia. Since Blattman is a researcher on crime and violence Borh took him out to the pickpockets, drug dealers, and others that were living on the margins of society.
On their way they would run to men sitting on the streets, making off a sluggish income by polishing shoes or even selling clothing. When they saw Borh who was walking by, they’d rush to him to hug him. Blattman remembers his experience that, when he inquired of the men what they had in common with Both the men would respond such as, “I used to be similar to them” and then point out the nearby drug dealers or pickpockets. “But after that, I was in Bohr’s course.”
This is the way Blattman was introduced to the program Borh had run for the past 15 years: The Sustainable Transformation of Youth in Liberia. It gave men at risk of being violent crimes eight weeks of cognitive behavior therapy. CBT, as it’s referred to is an extremely popular and scientifically-proven method of dealing with anxiety and other issues however, Borh has adapted the therapeutic approach to tackle issues such as criminality and violence.
A counselor would meet with them in groups of 20 or so, the men would work on specific behavior changes, such as controlling their anger and exercising control. They also practiced putting to create a new image that wasn’t tied to their previous behavior by changing their clothes, and haircuts, and attempting to integrate them into the mainstream of society by participating in banking, community sports, and more.
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Blattman was keen to examine how effective this program might be. He decided to conduct an extensive, controlled, randomized trial using 999 of the most dangerous criminals in Monrovia who were recruited through the streets. These results are so encouraging that they’ve been the inspiration for a similar program in another city: Chicago.
In Chicago, The murder rate is alarmingly high and the police are unable to stop 95 percent of shootings. The search for a solution to prevent shootings as well as other violent crimes is a top need — not just in Chicago as well as throughout the US the incidents of mass killings that occurred in Buffalo, New York, and Uvalde, Texas remind us. Because direct measures like the elimination of guns are generally prevented by the political divide and the attempt to tackle crime after the fact brings the risk of being brutalized by policy We urgently need fresh solutions to the issue of violence.
Cash and therapy were a surprising combination that worked
The 99 Liberian men were divided into four different groups. Some were given CBT and others received the cash equivalent of $200. A different group received the CBT along with cash and then there was a group of control who received neither.
After a month of the intervention and the therapy group as well as the cash-plus-therapy group showed positive outcomes. A year later after it, positive results for those who had therapy on their own had diminished somewhat, but those who received therapy with cash had still shown massive effects: crime and violence had decreased by about 50.
However, Blattman was not able to imagine that the effects would last. The experts he interviewed predicted that the effect would diminish dramatically over time as they do in many interventions.
This was why it was such a wonderful surprise when, ten years after, he tracked down the men who were in the initial study and re-evaluated them. It was amazing to see that crime and violence were down by around 50 percent in the cash-plus-therapy group.
Blattman believes that the program resulted in 338 fewer crimes per participant in 10 years. In the context of only $530 to set up the program, it amounts to $1.50 for each crime prevented.
In the end, it performed exceptionally efficiently. But what could the mixture of the CBT as well as some cash succeed
Practice makes perfect
The most plausible theory according to Blattman believes that the 200 dollars cash allowed men to engage in some months of legal business activities — like shoe polishing following the end of their therapy. This meant they had a few more months to get used to their new identity and behavior changes. “Basically this allowed them to work on their skills,” Blattman told me.
Some caveats the study relied heavily on self-reported data regarding the people were doing and not engaged in, which may cause concerns about demands from experimenters (where participants inform the experimenters what they would like to be told). In addition in the 999 men initially recruited for the research, just 103 of them had died before the follow-up of 10 years.
This could make you think whether the men who were more violent that could have been more resistant to the benefits that the program had, were absent from the reevaluation process and making it appear like the crime rate decreased more than it actually had.
But there are caveats for the caveats. One thing to note is that the authors of the study didn’t solely rely on self-reported data. They also observed how people behaved in games with incentives, where for instance, they’re presented with the option of receiving $1 today or $5 the following week (a great illustration of self-control and forward-looking thinking). “Our treatments have been found to be effective and consistent in these outcomes,” the study notes.
Through interviews with relatives and friends of every participant who passed away, The authors also identified the reason for the death. They found only 26 deaths that were violent. Even when they tried to model the results if they added “good” results for those who were not in the control group as well as “bad” outcomes for members of the treatment group who are missing The positive treatment effect for therapy-plus-cash was mostly.
Upending the traditional approach to criminality
Inspired by the model that was implemented in Liberia, Chicago has been conducting a similar but more intense program called READI. For 18 months, the men from some of the most violent neighborhoods attend counseling sessions in the morning and are then offered work-related training in the afternoon. The reason for this can be attributed to the country that has a well-developed labor market such as Chicago Chicago, the most efficient option to boost earnings is likely to be to lure individuals into the market. However, in Liberia, the labor market is not as efficient and it makes more sense to provide cash to people.
“We’ll be able to see better results in the season,” said Blattman of the READI program that he’s helping to coach. So far, “it doesn’t look like a slam dunk.”
But, Chicago is eager to explore these approaches based on therapy and has already experienced some results in the past. Chicago is also the home of the program Becoming man (BAM) which lets high school students participate in group CBT sessions. A controlled study that was randomized showed that arrests for criminals decreased by around fifty percent when participants participated in BAM. BAM program. While the effects waned as time passed The program appears to be extremely cost-effective.
However, this isn’t just an account of the increasing acceptance that therapy could help in helping to prevent crimes. The trend can be seen as part of a larger shift to adopt a strategy to the crime that’s more akin to a carrot and less a stick.
“It’s focused on a modern sensible policy for social control. Social inclusion is one of the most efficient methods of controlling social behavior,” David Brotherton, a sociologist at the City University of New York, explained to me in the year 2019.
Brotherton has been a long-time advocate of the current US policy is ineffectively punitive and coercive. His research has proven that helping vulnerable people integrate into society — for example, by providing them with cash is more effective in decreasing violence.
For an interesting example from Brotherton’s research In 2007, the country that was plagued by crime Ecuador legalized the groups that were the main cause of the violence. The country permitted groups to transform themselves into cultural groups that could be registered with the government. This allows them to receive grants and access to social programs.
What transpired with the murder rate in the next couple of years?
That’s right. It fell.