Baylor University Study Finds Violence-Reduction Program Improves Safety and Attendance and Decreases Need for Police in Richmond, Va., High School

May 5, 2010

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Research into the effectiveness of implementing Violence-Free Zones at schools continues to show improved safety and attendance rates and decreased need for police interventions, say researchers at Baylor University.

The newest study results, released today, show that a Richmond, Va., high school had significant reductions in student incidents, suspension rates and total suspensions during the 2008-2009 school year, as compared with the previous year before the Violence-Free Zone (VFZ) program was introduced in the school. The case study was carried out by Byron Johnson and William Wubbenhorst of Baylor's Program on Prosocial Behavior.

The Richmond study confirms similar research into VFZs in Milwaukee by Johnson and Wubbenhorst in 2009. The Milwaukee study found that the VFZ initiative reduced the number of reported violent and nonviolent incidents in school, as well as the number of student suspensions, when compared with other high schools that do not have the program. The Richmond Violence Free Zone Initiative case study can be downloaded here.

Using data and outcomes tracked through the Richmond Public Schools, Baylor researchers found that the Center for Neighborhood Enterprise's Violence-Free Zone has had demonstrable early impact on Richmond's George Wythe High School in the three following areas:

Improved safety within the school:

    16% reduction in incidents

Increased presence of students in school:

    35% decrease in unexcused absences
    9% decrease in total absences
    10% decrease in suspension days
    41% decrease in truancy rates

Reduced need for police services/intervention:

    18% reduction in calls for police service to school
    15% reduction in arrests at school
    61% reduction in motor vehicle thefts within 1,000 feet of school

In addition to examining school and police data, researchers looked at the findings in economic cost-benefit terms, including increased school teaching days and reduced police "transaction" costs, such as fewer police hours needed to address incidents/crimes at or near the high school, and general "value" associated with the reduced number of auto thefts attributable to the VFZ program. These include an estimated gain of 1,776 teaching days at the school, and estimated $371,305 saved in motor vehicles not stolen.

"In sum, interviews with Richmond school officials, teachers, staff and law enforcement personnel indicate widespread agreement regarding the connections between the VFZ initiative and improvements in a number of important of areas," the Baylor report said.

The VFZ was implemented in the 1,100-student George Wythe High School in the Richmond Public School system in 2008. This selection was based, among other things, on the school's 2006-07 truancy rate - as measured by the percentage of students with six or more unexcused absences - of 66 percent, which was more than triple the 20 percent average for the other seven Richmond high schools. In addition, George Wythe was tied for the most youth aged 14-19 years who were arrested between January and June of 2008, comprising 36 percent of all youth arrests among Richmond high schools during that time period.

George Wythe is one of 36 schools across the nation that have implemented Center for Neighborhood Enterprise's Violence-Free Zone program this school year. Other sites are located at Atlanta (5), Baltimore (5), Dallas (17) and Milwaukee (8).

The Violence-Free Zone program was put into action in Richmond by CNE's community partner, the Richmond Outreach Center (The ROC). The VFZ Youth Advisers - young adults from the same communities as the students - work full time in the schools as hall and cafeteria monitors, conflict mediators and mentors to high-need students. The results reflect a close collaboration among Richmond Public Schools, the Richmond Police Department, GWHS Principal Willie Bell, school teachers, school counselors, safety staff, School Resource Officers (SRO) and the Violence-Free Zone staff.

Richmond corporate leaders have made a significant investment in the community through their support of the youth violence reduction program. Dominion Resources, Altria Group Inc., MWV and Genworth Financial are among the corporate leaders that have contributed support to the project through the Richmond Police Foundation.

About the Richmond VFZ Program:

The Violence Free Zone initiative is a youth-violence prevention and reduction program located within select middle and high schools across the United States. The Center for Neighborhood Enterprise, which created the model, selects a community-based youth-serving organization in each locale to implement the program. CNE's Richmond community partner is the Richmond Outreach Center (The ROC), which implements the full-time VFZ in-school program and offers after-school and Saturday programs that allow the group to reach out to youth across the city, engaging them in social enterprises aimed at redirecting their time and efforts away from gangs and criminal activity.

VFZ programs recruit and train Youth Advisers from the same neighborhoods as the students in the schools they serve. These Youth Advisers serve several roles, including hall monitors, mentors, counselors, role models and "peace-makers" when conflicts flare up in the school. Each Youth Adviser carries what they call a formal and an informal caseload of students. The formal caseload of about 20 students comprises:

    1) students specifically targeted by VFZ staff, principal and/or teachers,
    2) students enrolled during reinstatement after a school suspension and
    3) "word-of-mouth" referrals.

The informal case load constitutes students reaching out for relationships and connection with one or more Youth Advisers, with VFZ staff available to whoever needs their time and attention.

How the Study Was Performed:

The researchers completed the case study based upon in-depth interviews with:

    1) key staff from CNE and the VFZ,
    2) members of the Richmond Outreach Center,
    3) staff from the George Wythe High School,
    4) staff from the Richmond Police department,
    5) individuals with knowledge of the VFZ Initiative in Richmond and
    6) representatives of the foundations funding the VFZ Initiative in Richmond.

They also analyzed data provided by the Richmond Public Schools on suspensions, unexcused absences, truancy rates and school incidents data, as well as crime and service call data from the Richmond Police Department.

"In combination, these in-depth interviews and data capture critical qualitative and quantitative insights [including cost-benefits associated with the program] into the preliminary results of this intervention designed to reduce youth violence," the report said. "The early impact of the VFZ in George Wythe, both qualitatively [from interviews of school staff and students] and quantitatively [through the comparison of a wide range of data] between academic years 2007-08 and 2008-09 has been quite significant."

Media contact: Lori Fogleman, director of media communications, (254) 710-6275

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