Background

Gun violence is by far the largest driver of homicides in America, the overwhelming majority of which take the form of day-to-day shootings in underserved communities.1 Black and Latinx young men living in urban neighborhoods are disproportionately impacted by this tragic violence—almost 75% of America’s 14,415 gun homicide victims in 2016 were either Black or Latinx, and nearly 85% were male.2

In order to adequately address this public health crisis, we need policies that address not only the supply of guns in impacted neighborhoods, but also the root causes of community violence. In addition to stronger gun laws, there are a number of highly effective intervention strategies that directly address gun homicides and shootings by working with high-risk individuals to disrupt cycles of violence. For more details on these strategies, see our Healing Communities in Crisis report.

Interpersonal Gun Violence in Massachusetts

Massachusetts has some of the nation’s strongest gun laws, and consequently one of the lowest overall gun death rates in the country and the tenth-lowest rate of gun homicide.3 Among states with a population greater than two million, Massachusetts has the nation’s second-lowest gun homicide rate.4

However, between 2005 and 2009, violence in Massachusetts started to rise.5 During this period the state averaged 107 homicides per year before culminating in an unprecedented 126 homicides in 2010, a number which rose yet again in 2011.6 As of 2017, gun homicides in Massachusetts are down nearly 20% since their peak in 2011.7

While the effects of gun violence permeate throughout the state, interpersonal firearm violence does not affect all communities in Massachusetts equally. Gun violence in the commonwealth is highly concentrated geographically, with one-third of the state’s homicides taking place in just one city—Boston.8

As in many places with high rates of gun homicides, Black and Latin American communities in Massachusetts are also disproportionately impacted. Combined, Black and Latinx people in the commonwealth make up 20% of the population but, on average, represent nearly 80% of gun homicide victims.9

Cycles of violence continue to take an enormous emotional, physical, and financial toll on Massachusetts and its residents. Including direct and indirect costs associated with healthcare, law enforcement, lost wages, and pain and suffering, gun violence in Massachusetts costs approximately $1.5 billion annually.10

Even as a national leader in terms of per capita investment in gun violence reduction strategies, the commonwealth’s investment pales in comparison to the staggering financial burden gun violence imposes on residents of Massachusetts.

Massachusetts’s Response to Serious Violence

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts invests directly in local, data-driven gun violence reduction strategies primarily through two competitive grant programs: the Safe and Successful Youth Initiative (SSYI) and the Shannon Community Safety Initiative (CSI). SSYI focuses its attention on young men ages 17-25, while Shannon CSI’s focus is preventing violence among youth ages 12-17. With SSYI and Shannon CSI, Massachusetts has stitched together a comprehensive system of intervention and prevention that supports youth at highest risk for engaging in violence from adolescence to adulthood.

Historically, Massachusetts has funded both SSYI and Shannon CSI at approximately $6 million dollars per year for a total annual investment of $12 million.11 For fiscal year 2019, Massachusetts appropriated full funding of $8 million for SSYI—avoiding the need to seek appropriations through a supplemental budget process for the first time in the program’s history. Shannon CSI also received $8 million in funding, an increase over previous years, for a combined total investment of $16 million.12

As of fall 2018, Massachusetts leaders used the supplemental budget process to create a new $10 million line item in the Department of Public Health budget to fund a neighborhood-based gun and violent crime prevention pilot program to provide intervention services for at-risk, out-of-school youth.13 This was part of a larger school safety package and reflected the important reality that the overwhelming majority of gun violence in Massachusetts occurs outside of school settings in underserved communities of color.

Taken together, the $26 million appropriation to these programs represents one of the nation’s largest per capita investments of state-level dollars in local, evidence-based violence reduction initiatives. This is, in part, why Massachusetts remains a national leader when it comes to gun violence prevention.

To learn more about how Massachusetts and a handful of other states are supporting effective evidence-based gun violence reduction strategies at the state level, see our report Investing in Intervention: The Critical Role of State-Level Support in Breaking the Cycle of Urban Gun Violence.

Safe and Successful Youth Initiative

In response to a dramatic increase in shootings and gun homicides, Gov. Deval Patrick launched SSYI by executive order in 2011, the state’s deadliest year in more than a decade. The SSYI approach to violence reduction borrows from a number of effective practices, narrowly focusing on the most at-risk people and places to provide them with a comprehensive set of social services designed to address the underlying causes of violent behavior.

Strategy

The state’s strategy is highly focused on communities with the most need and is only available to the 20 municipalities in the state with the highest rates of violence. SSYI is administered by the Assistant Secretary of the Executive Office of Health and Human Services for Children, Youth and Families (EOHHS) and serves 12 cities in Massachusetts: Boston, Brockton, Chelsea, Fall River, Holyoke, Lawrence, Lowell, Lynn, New Bedford Pittsfield, Springfield, and Worcester.14

The SSYI program uses street outreach and engagement teams to work directly with individuals at highest risk for becoming victims or perpetrators of violence. These teams help mediate conflicts, deliver needs-based support services, and provide intensive supervision through after school programs and case management. The initiative also supports employment and education services, helping at-risk youth succeed in school and find employment.

Family members of SSYI clients are also offered a host of services including trauma counseling, mental health services, and group or family counseling. These services help clients and family work through trauma, help bolster a healthy home environment, and decrease the likelihood of violent behavior.15 With this comprehensive system of support, SSYI works to bring impacted neighborhoods the tools and resources necessary to foster safe and healthy communities.

Another key component of SSYI is its lack of police involvement and suppression.16 Instead, the focus of SSYI is on improving the economic, social, physical, and emotional well-being of program participants.

In fiscal year 2019, there will be no need for administrators to suffer through the uncertainty of the supplemental budget process, since Massachusetts fully funded SSYI at $8.145 million for the first time in the program’s history.17 This will help bring much-needed stability to a deserving and effective strategy.

Results

Evaluations of SSYI illustrate the program’s success in a number of areas including educational attainment and job retention. Most importantly, researchers found that SSYI had a “statistically significant and positive impact” in reducing the number of monthly aggravated assaults and homicides reported to police.18 SSYI cities experienced a 31% reduction in aggravated assaults and a 25% reduction in homicides.19

Evaluators further noted that, during the study period, reductions in all forms of serious violence were greater in SSYI cities than in comparison cities. In fact, between 2011 and 2013, “SSYI-engaged cities experienced 139 fewer violent crime victimizations on average per month compared to non-SSYI municipalities.”20

As one example, between 2013 and 2016, Lowell, Massachusetts, an SSYI site, saw overall firearm-related activity drop by 22%, gang-related criminal activity decline by 31%, and nonfatal shootings plummet by 61%.21

A separate evaluation found that SSYI also had an impact on rates of incarceration for young people. Looking at the aggregate likelihood of incarceration among SSYI-enrolled youth across nine SSYI sites as compared to peers in similar cities, researchers found that “receiving SSYI services and engagement with those services had a strong, positive effect on reducing the likelihood that a young person will be incarcerated.”22

Based on these reductions in violence and incarceration, evaluators examining SSYI sites in Boston and Springfield calculated that Massachusetts taxpayers saved as much as $7.35 for every $1 invested in the program from 2012 to 2013.23 Evaluators found that during this time period, these sites “prevented close to $15 million in violent crime victimizations from 2012 to 2013,” compared to a total program budget for these two cities of just over $2 million.24

“Massachusetts is the only state taking a comprehensive, research-based approach to combating violent crime across multiple cities,” said Dr. Patricia E. Campie, principal researcher at AIR. “The combination of a targeted list of high-impact youth offenders, coupled with street outreach workers and case management that connect youth with needed services, has showed promise in reducing violent crime in the cities implementing the interventions.”25

The evidence shows that SSYI’s investment in local, community-based violence reduction strategies is saving the lives and money of Massachusetts residents.

Shannon Community Safety Initiative

Working alongside SSYI in Massachusetts is Shannon CSI, a competitive grant program created in 2005 that is geared toward addressing the needs of children and young adults in the commonwealth’s most impacted communities.26 By equipping young people with the resources necessary to lead safe and productive lives, Shannon CSI aims to deter violence and prevent homicides long before these individuals ever encounter a gun.

Strategy

To ensure that funds reach the population with the greatest need, prospective grantees are required to complete a thorough needs assessment and assemble a committee to develop effective strategies that address social intervention, opportunity provision, punitive crime suppression, organizational change, and community mobilization.

The first component, social intervention, focuses on providing educational and recreational opportunities, intensive mentoring, and conflict mediation to impacted communities, often through street outreach work. Funded strategies must also support opportunity provision which includes providing access to resources like education, job training, and employment services.27

Unlike SSYI, Shannon CSI does support some targeted punitive crime suppression tactics including close supervision or monitoring of youth at high-risk for engaging in violence, hotspot patrols, and home visits from law enforcement officials. As a result, law enforcement and service providers must also build the organizational capacity to work together and effectively use the commonwealth’s resources to reduce violence.

The final critical component of the Shannon CSI strategy involves a genuine and sustained effort to engage community members. Grantees accomplish this task by soliciting input from residents, building community capacity, and educating community members about youth violence trends and the strategies used to confront them.28 By requiring strategies to address these five areas, Shannon CSI is able to effectively direct funds to capable and comprehensive programs with a strong likelihood of successfully reducing violence.

Results

Shannon CSI’s focus on long-term prevention makes the program difficult to evaluate, however, aggregate data from program sites demonstrated a 31.6% decrease in the number of arrests for aggravated assault and a 26.8% decline in simple assault cases by young people age 10-24 between 2013 and 2017.29

In the city of Worcester, one of the first Shannon CSI sites, arrests for aggravated assaults fell by roughly 31% from 2013 to 2017.30 In addition, from 2014 to 2016 Worcester saw a 36% reduction in shooting victims and 13% reduction in stabbings.31 This reduction occurred at a time when Worcester police reported fewer arrests than in any of the other previous five years.

While these gains cannot be definitively attributed to Shannon CSI in the absence of formal evaluations, officials have made other notable observations about the impact of the program. In Worcester, officials have praised Shannon CSI for bringing an unprecedented level of regional cooperation to law enforcement and social and human services agencies that has enabled these agencies to better serve Massachusetts residents.32

A National Leader

Despite being home to cities with a long history of gun violence, Massachusetts has quickly become a national model for investment in local, evidence-based gun violence prevention and intervention strategies, and has achieved the 10th lowest gun homicide rate in the country. Still, the commonwealth’s gun violence problem is far from solved. Though homicides are down from their peak in 2011, this downward trend reversed course between 2016 and 2017 with an alarming 16% increase in firearm-related homicides.33

Fortunately, in the wake of this resurgence in violence, Massachusetts is not shying away from its effective statewide strategies. Instead, the commonwealth is doubling down. For the first time in the program’s history, Massachusetts has chosen to fully fund SSYI without relying on the supplemental budget process, and will supply an additional $10 million to launch a new violence prevention and intervention program in 2019.

These changes solidify Massachusetts’s position as a national leader in terms of per-capita investment in evidence-based violence prevention and intervention programming and demonstrate a renewed commitment to the commonwealths’ most vulnerable communities.

For more information on this topic, see our policy page on Intervention Strategies.

Notes
  1. According to CDC data, out of 19,362 total homicides in the US in 2016, 14,415 were committed with a firearm, which is nearly 75%. “WISQARS Fatal Injury Reports,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, accessed January 3, 2019, http://www.cdc.gov/injury/wisqars/fatal.html. ⤴︎
  2. Id. ⤴︎
  3. See “Annual Gun Law State Scorecard,” Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, accessed January 3, 2019,  https://lawcenter.giffords.org/scorecard/#MA; 2017 state gun homicide ranking is from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics, Underlying Cause of Death 1999-2017, on CDC WONDER Online Database, accessed Dec 14, 2018, http://wonder.cdc.gov/ucd-icd10.html. ⤴︎
  4. Id. ⤴︎
  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics. Underlying Cause of Death 1999-2017 on CDC WONDER Online Database, released December, 2018. Data are from the Multiple Cause of Death Files, 1999-2017, as compiled from data provided by the 57 vital statistics jurisdictions through the Vital Statistics Cooperative Program, accessed December 21, 2018, http://wonder.cdc.gov/ucd-icd10.html. ⤴︎
  6. Id. ⤴︎
  7. Id. ⤴︎
  8. “Uniform Crime Reporting Program Data: Offenses Known to Law Enforcement, 2017, Table 8,” US Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation, accessed December 20, 2018, https://ucr.fbi.gov/crime-in-the-u.s/2017/crime-in-the-u.s.-2017/tables/table-8/table-8-state-cuts/massachusetts.xls ⤴︎
  9. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics. Underlying Cause of Death 1999-2017 on CDC WONDER Online Database, released December, 2018. Data are from the Multiple Cause of Death Files, 1999-2017, as compiled from data provided by the 57 vital statistics jurisdictions through the Vital Statistics Cooperative Program, accessed December 21, 2018, http://wonder.cdc.gov/ucd-icd10.html. ⤴︎
  10. Calculated by Giffords Law Center. Estimates of the cost of gun violence in Massachusetts were created using a model published in 2012 by economists at the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation (PIRE). PIRE is a nonprofit research organization that focuses on using scientific research to inform public policy. This model can be found at www.pire.org/documents/gswcost2010.pdf. All cost estimates were adjusted to 2016 dollars. ⤴︎
  11. Giffords Law Center, Investing in Intervention: The Critical Role of State-Level Support in Breaking the Cycle of Urban Gun Violence (2016), https://lawcenter.giffords.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/Investing-in-Intervention-02.14.18.pdf. ⤴︎
  12. “Section 40000005 – Safe and Successful Youth Initiative – Budget Summary FY 2019,” Mass.gov, August 10, 2018, http://budget.digital.mass.gov/bb/gaa/fy2019/app_19/act_19/h40000005.htm.
    “Section 81000111 – Gang Prevention Grant Program- Budget Summary FY 2019,” Mass.gov,  August 10, 2018, http://budget.digital.mass.gov/bb/gaa/fy2019/app_19/act_19/h81000111.htm. ⤴︎
  13. Supplemental Budget Item 4590-1504. See Press Release, “Governor Baker Signs Supplemental Budget Bill, Investing New Funding in School Safety, Local Infrastructure,” Oct. 23, 2018, https://www.mass.gov/news/governor-baker-signs-supplemental-budget-bill-investing-new-funding-in-school-safety-local. ⤴︎
  14. “Safe and Successful Youth Initiative (SSYI),” Commonwealth Corporation, accessed January 3, 2019, http://commcorp.org/programs/safe-and-successful-youth-initiative. ⤴︎
  15. Patricia E. Campie, et al., “The Impact of the Safe and Successful Youth Initiative on City-Level Youth Crime Victimization Rates: Substantive Results and Implications for Evaluation,” Journal of MultiDisciplinary Evaluation 13, no. 29 (2017): 8–15, http://www.air.org/resource/impact-safe-and-successful-youthinitiative-ssyi-city-level-youth-crime-victimization-rates. ⤴︎
  16. Patricia E. Campie, et al., “The Impact of the Safe and Successful Youth Initiative (SSYI) on City-Level Youth Crime Victimization Rates,” American Institutes for Research and WestEd (2014), http://www.air.org/sites/default/files/downloads/report/SSYI%20-%20Interrupted%20Time%20Series%20Study%20of%20Community%20Victimization%20Outcomes%202011-2013_0.pdf. ⤴︎
  17. “Section 40000005 – Safe and Successful Youth Initiative – Budget Summary FY 2019,” Mass.gov, August 10, 2018, http://budget.digital.mass.gov/bb/gaa/fy2019/app_19/act_19/h40000005.htm. ⤴︎
  18. “Section 40000005 – Safe and Successful Youth Initiative – Budget Summary FY 2019,” Mass.gov, August 10, 2018, http://budget.digital.mass.gov/bb/gaa/fy2019/app_19/act_19/h40000005.htm. ⤴︎
  19. “Governor Patrick Announces Positive Results of Administration’s Safe and Successful Youth Initiative,” Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Executive Department Office of Governor Deval L. Patrick, Press Release, Dec. 22, 2014, http://archives.lib.state.ma.us/bitstream/handle/2452/217935/ocn795183245-2014-12-22.pdf. ⤴︎
  20. Patricia E. Campie, et al., “The Impact of the Safe and Successful Youth Initiative (SSYI) on City-Level Youth Crime Victimization Rates,” American Institutes for Research and WestEd (2014): 4, http://www.air.org/sites/default/files/downloads/report/SSYI%20-%20Interrupted%20Time%20Series%20Study%20of%20Community%20Victimization%20Outcomes%202011-2013_0.pdf. ⤴︎
  21. Crime data provided by Lowell PD. ⤴︎
  22. Patricia E. Campie, et al., “A Comparative Study Using Propensity Score Matching to Predict Incarceration Likelihoods among SSYI and non-SSYI Youth from 2011–2013,” American Institutes for Research and WestEd (2014), http://www.air.org/sites/default/files/downloads/report/A%20Comparative%20Study%20Using%20Propensity%20Score%20Matching%20to%20Predict%20Incarceration%20Likelihoods%20Among%20SSYI%20and%20non-SSYI%20Youth%20from%202011-2013_rev.pdf. ⤴︎
  23. Patricia E. Campie, et al., “Massachusetts Safe and Successful Youth Initiative, Benefit-to-Cost Analysis of Springfield and Boston Sites,” American Institutes for Research and WestEd (2014), http://www.air.org/sites/default/files/downloads/report/Benefit%20to%20Cost%20Analysis%20of%20Boston%20and%20Springfield%20SSYI%20Programs.pdf. ⤴︎
  24. American Institutes for Research, “Safe and Successful Youth Initiative in Massachusetts (SSYI),” https://www.air.org/project/safe-and-successful-youth-initiative-massachusetts-ssyi. ⤴︎
  25. Id. ⤴︎
  26. “Massachusetts General Laws, Chapter 167 of the Acts of 2005 item 8100-0011,” Massachusetts Legislature, accessed January 3, 2018, https://malegislature.gov/Laws/SessionLaws/Acts/2005/Chapter167. ⤴︎
  27. Jack McDevitt, et al., Senator Charles E. Shannon Jr. Community Safety Initiative: Year Two Report (Massachusetts Executive Office of Public Safety and Security, 2009), http://www.mass.gov/eopss/docs/eops/shannon-pub-6.pdf. ⤴︎
  28. “Shannon Community Safety Initiative Overview,” Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Executive Office of Public Safety and Security, accessed January 3, 2019, http://www.mass.gov/eopss/funding-and-training/justice-and-prev/grants/shannon-csi/shannon-community-safety-initiative-overview.html. ⤴︎
  29. “2016 Charles E. Shannon Community Safety Initiative, Massachusetts,” Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Executive Office of Public Safety and Security, accessed January 3, 2019, https://www.mass.gov/service-details/shannon-community-safety-initiative-csi. ⤴︎
  30. “2016 Charles E. Shannon Community Safety Initiative: Worcester,” Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Executive Office of Public Safety and Security, accessed January 3, 2019, https://www.mass.gov/files/documents/2018/09/28/Worcester.pdf. ⤴︎
  31. Joseph M. Petty and Edward M. Augustus, Jr, “Guest Editorial: Mayor Petty and Manager Augustus on Preventing Youth Violence,” Worcester Telegram, Mar. 5, 2017, http://www.telegram.com/opinion/20170305/guest-editorial-mayor-petty-and-manager-augustus-on-preventing-youth-violence. ⤴︎
  32. “The State of Equity in Metro Boston, Policy Agenda,” Metropolitan Area Planning Council, Jan. 9, 2014, https://www.slideshare.net/jessiegrogan5/state-of-equity-policy-agenda-final-tagged. ⤴︎
  33. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics. Underlying Cause of Death 1999-2017 on CDC WONDER Online Database, released December, 2018. Data are from the Multiple Cause of Death Files, 1999-2017, as compiled from data provided by the 57 vital statistics jurisdictions through the Vital Statistics Cooperative Program, accessed December 21, 2018, http://wonder.cdc.gov/ucd-icd10.html. ⤴︎