Treating Violence as a Contagious Disease

    • September 19, 2014

Dates of Program: August 1, 1999 through September 14, 2016

Description: Cure Violence trains street-smart “violence interrupters” and outreach workers to work the streets, and sometimes the emergency rooms, of some of the most violent neighborhoods in a city. They are “credible messengers” because they hail from the same communities as the young people they engage, often have been incarcerated, and, always, have turned their lives around.

“We don’t bring people from the outside, we hire people who already have a vested interest in these communities.” Francisco Perez, MA, director of the Cure Violence national program.

The program launched in Chicago, under the guidance of the University of Illinois at Chicago School of Public Health in the mid-1990s. In 1999, RWJF began to fund its development and field-testing in Chicago and other Illinois cities, and since 2006, it has supported national replication; RWJF grants to spread the model to date total about $14.7 million. An additional $2.94 million is supporting a broad program evaluation by researchers at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York that began in 2014; and two grants totaling almost $664,000 are helping Cure Violence refine its business model and implement a plan for growth and sustainability.

Key Results

  • As of June 2014, Cure Violence was operating at 52 neighborhoods in 22 cities, including 18 high-risk Chicago neighborhoods. Other communities that are closely replicating the design include Baltimore, Crown Heights (Brooklyn, N.Y.), New Orleans, Philadelphia, and Loiza, Puerto Rico. A statewide Cure Violence initiative in New York, run through the Division of Criminal Justice Services, currently operates in eight communities.

  • Chicago-based national program staff works intensively and one-on-one with replication sites to train management and field workers in the Cure Violence model. Requests for technical assistance services spiked after the program was showcased in The Interrupters, a 2011 documentary that aired in local theatres and Public Broadcasting System channels.

  • Three local evaluations—in Chicago, Brooklyn, N.Y., and Baltimore—concluded that Cure Violence played a demonstrable role in reducing violence in the neighborhoods in which it operated. However, methodological limitations, site design, and changes in patterns of community violence meant the evaluations were not completely definitive.

  • Slowly, the lives of some young people are beginning to change. From turning a violent man into a program ally to talking down a jealous former prisoner to teaching kids to dream, Cure Violence project sites are helping men take the small steps that can lead to personal transformation.

The strategy is to reframe the way they look at the situation so they consider self-interest in a different light, says Jalon Arthur, MS, acting program manager of operations for CeaseFire Illinois. Participants start to say, “If I’m not doing violence, it ain’t because I’m scared. It’s because that don’t make sense for me.”

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#CureViolence: Violence interrupters work on urban streets/ERs to curb violence, change how young men think