In 2016, after a historic surge of gun violence in Chicago that deeply affected the city’s most vulnerable communities – over 90% of victims were people of color – the Crime Lab and the Heartland Alliance knew we had work to do. So in the fall of 2017, we launched READI Chicago, a large-scale initiative that connects individuals most at risk of gun violence involvement with employment in paid transitional jobs, counseling, and supportive services to help them gain skills and create a path to a better future.
READI participants are recruited through community referrals, after they’ve been released from jail or prison, or if they’ve been identified as at-risk. They then join the program for 18 months, after which they have access to an additional six months of case management and coaching support to help them transition to stable, unsubsidized employment.
READI exists to serve members of communities that have endured decades of systematic disinvestment, because the Crime Lab and the Heartland Alliance recognize that those barriers contribute to an inhumane and discriminatory cycle of violence. The average participant of READI Chicago has been arrested 18 times, and three-quarters have been the victim of violent crime. Many cope with significant trauma, health, legal, and housing issues that create barriers to their long-term success.
The Crime Lab and the Inclusive Economy Lab is currently measuring READI’s impact, but early signs are promising. As of January 2019 outreach workers have connected with 527 participants, 380 (72%) of whom have started transitional employment.
READI is currently operating in four Chicago neighborhoods – Austin, Greater Englewood, North Lawndale, and West Garfield Park – thanks to seven community-based outreach organizations and job providers. We look forward to exploring even more opportunities to address the immediate and long-term needs of READI Chicago participants in order to empower them to reach their long-term goals and ensure their safety.