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University of Chicago crime lab awarded $1M MacArthur Foundation grant

President Barack Obamtalks with Mayor Rahm Emanuel after arriving O'Hare International Airport 2011. Both are supporters University Chicago Crime Lab

President Barack Obama talks with Mayor Rahm Emanuel after arriving at O'Hare International Airport in 2011. Both are supporters of the University of Chicago Crime Lab, awarded a $1 million MacArthur Foundation grant on Wednesday. | Associated Press files

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Updated: March 21, 2014 3:35PM



A University of Chicago think tank whose anti-violence research is being embraced by President Barack Obama and Mayor Rahm Emanuel will receive a $1 million grant from the MacArthur Foundation, officials announced Wednesday.

The University of Chicago Crime Lab, founded in 2008, is attracting national attention with studies of programs that target high-school students with innovative educational programs meant to reduce their chances of becoming involved in violence.

Those programs include Becoming a Man, or B.A.M., which uses Olympic sports and counseling to improve at-risk students’ attitudes about school — as well as a math-tutoring program modeled on the MATCH Education charter schools in Boston. The crime lab discovered that a combination of math tutoring and B.A.M. mentoring improved academic performance and reduced misconduct more than B.A.M. in isolation.

Roseanna Ander, executive director of the crime lab, said the projects have shown that early intervention programs targeting young children aren’t the only ones that are effective in combating crime. Ander said the think tank is also working with the police in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago to better understand the underground gun market.

The MacArthur Foundation grant will allow the crime lab to provide funding to new start-up projects, Ander said. The lab, whose operating budget is between $1 million and $1.5 million a year, is getting requests for help nearly every day, she said.

The lab’s research — which showed B.A.M. boosted graduation rates by 10 to 23 percent and cut violent-crime arrests by 44 percent — led Emanuel last year to pledge $2 million in city funding for the program. Emanuel also expanded “One Summer PLUS,” a jobs program aimed at young people at risk of being exposed to violence, after a 2012 crime lab study showed positive results.

Obama administration officials, meanwhile, said the president’s visit to the B.A.M. program at Hyde Park Academy High School last year was among his inspirations for the My Brother’s Keeper initiative he announced earlier this month to test strategies aimed at improving the lives of young minority men.

Some of the crime lab’s recent work has been controversial. Last year, for example, the lab studied Emanuel’s proposal for mandatory minimum sentences for gun possession and concluded it would deter gun-related violence. Other institutions, such as the Bluhm Legal Clinic at Northwestern University and the prison watchdog John Howard Association strongly disagreed, saying research shows mandatory minimum prison terms don’t reduce crime.

The University of Chicago Crime Lab was among seven organizations in three countries awarded the MacArthur Award for Creative and Effective Institutions. Some others included ProPublica, the New York-based investigative journalism group; and The Citizen Lab, a Toronto group that explores ways to expose and reduce human-rights abuses in cyberspace. All of the organizations have received support from the MacArthur Foundation in the past.

“From exposing human rights abuses in cyberspace to reducing the influence of money in American politics, the missions of these organizations are diverse,” MacArthur President Robert Gallucci said in a statement.

Email: fmain@suntimes.com



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