Can cognitive behavioral therapy actually reduce violence? New evidence suggests yes.
A new working paper released by the National Bureau of Economic research looked at a sample of 7th to 10th grade boys in Chicago public schools who lived in high-crime neighborhoods and found that those exposed to after-school programming, regular interactions with a helpful adult, and in-school cognitive behavioral therapy had better outcomes that could lead to better graduation rates. Shockingly, they run the numbers on the cost-benefit of supplying such help to young people, and they found that “the benefit-cost ratio may be as high as 30:1 from reductions in criminal activity alone.”
Researchers looked at some 2,740 young people who were randomly assigned to either a group with no intervention or with the therapy and adult aid intervention, mainly supplied through the Chicago nonprofit program “Becoming a Man.” The outcomes for those in the treatment group were surprising. The researchers discovered that “participation reduced violent crime arrests by 8.1 arrests per 100 youth over the course of the program year, a decline of 44 percent relative to participants’ control group counterparts. Arrests in our ‘other (non-violent, non-property, non-drug) category decreased by 11.5 arrests per 100 youth during the program year, a decline of 36 percent, due mostly to reductions in weapons offenses together with vandalism and trespassing.”
The researchers conclude:
The behavioral outcomes of a study sample (disadvantaged male youth) that have been so hard to help through other interventions appear to be remarkably elastic to even fairly modest investments in a program that includes CBT-based efforts to remediate common, predictable judgment and decision-making errors. Yet most of the $550 billion the U.S. spends on our most important socializing institution – our K-12 public schools (U.S. Census Bureau 2010) – is devoted to developing academic skills, at least after the first few years. Given how little attention is currently devoted to addressing non-academic factors that affect long-term outcomes of at-risk youth, there may be substantial returns to society from expanding investments in this area.