What is the Rapid Employment and Development Initiative, or READI Chicago?

READI Chicago is an innovative response to gun violence in Chicago. The program connects people most highly impacted by gun violence to paid transitional jobs, cognitive behavioral therapy, and wrap-around supportive services to help them create a viable path for a different future, and to help reduce violence in the city’s most impacted neighborhoods.

The program launched in fall 2017 in five community areas – North Lawndale, Austin, West Garfield Park, Englewood, and West Englewood – with a goal of connecting 400 individuals to the program in the first year. The University of Chicago Crime and Poverty labs are evaluating READI Chicago in order to understand its impact and potential to expand if results are strong.

What exactly does this program entail?

READI Chicago is a two-year engagement – 18 months of a paid transitional job, cognitive behavioral therapy, and supportive services, plus an additional six months of follow-up case management and coaching support to help participants successfully transition to unsubsidized employment.

Given that the individuals we are trying to reach are hard to engage, READI Chicago is allocating up to one year of community-based outreach services to enroll participants in the program.

Why is this program needed?

Violence devastates individuals and families, and threatens the health and future of our city. In 2016, there were 764 homicides and over 4,500 non-fatal shootings in Chicago, a 58% and 43% increase over the prior year, respectively. Although 2017 saw a drop in both homicides and non-fatal shootings, the drop was not uniform across communities and Chicago’s gun homicide rate remains 20 times greater than New York City, and four times greater than Los Angeles. There is no one solution to gun violence, and there are a number of promising approaches being implemented in Chicago with support from the philanthropic community. We launched READI Chicago in response because we believe that connecting the highest-risk people to critical supports has the potential to save lives now and to create greater opportunity and safety for everyone over the long term.

What is the evidence base for READI Chicago?

READI Chicago is informed by evidence from rigorous evaluations of similar programs involving employment, CBT, and increased income that have shown reductions in violence involvement. Evidence suggests that transitional jobs (wage-paid, time-limited work combined with employment-focused support services and skill development) can reduce recidivism rates among people with criminal records.1 In addition, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) has significantly reduced violent arrests among school-engaged youth.2 Finally, programs offering a combination of CBT and various forms of compensation show promise for long-term reductions in crime and violent behavior among at-risk youth and young adults.3 While these interventions demonstrate READI’s potential to have lasting effect on its participants, they have not yet been tested on the highly specific population believed to be at highest risk of being involved in Chicago’s gun violence or at this level of intensity, demonstrating the need to rigorously evaluate READI’s impact.

Which organizations are leading this initiative and what are their roles?

Heartland Alliance is the coordinating agency and employer of record for READI Chicago, leading efforts to secure transitional job opportunities, support and coordinate worksites, lead and coordinate training, lead capacity-building efforts and technical assistance, and provide safety and logistics support. Heartland Alliance is managing a network of community-based organizations and transitional jobs providers on the South and West sides of Chicago to implement the READI Chicago. These include: Institute for Nonviolence Chicago, UCAN, and Lawndale Christian Legal Center; and Heartland Human Care Services, North Lawndale Employment Network, and Centers for New Horizons.

The University of Chicago Crime and Poverty Labs are evaluating READI Chicago in order to understand its impact and potential to expand if results are strong.

How do you select participants?

READI Chicago is a highly-targeted program. It is designed to engage individuals who are most highly impacted by gun violence involvement. READI Chicago relies on the expertise of community-based practitioners (outreach organizations and transitional job providers) and partners in the criminal justice system (Illinois Department of Corrections, Cook County Sheriff’s Office) to identify potential participants. In addition, READI Chicago uses predictive analytics, in the form of the Urban Labs Risk Assessment, as one way to identify and subsequently connect individuals with outreach workers for the sole purpose of offering them social services and employment. The Urban Labs Risk Assessment was developed by the University of Chicago Crime Lab, as a complement to, not a substitute for, the knowledge and experience of practitioners.


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