Addressing Youth Crime by Teaching Social Skills through Sports

Enrolling disadvantaged teens in pro-social activities may greatly decrease violent crime arrests and increase graduation rates, according to a new study by the University of Chicago Crime Lab
In the Crime Lab study, 800 disadvantaged boys in grades 7 - 10 were placed in Becoming a Man - Sports Edition (BAM-Sports Edition) programs during the 2009-2010 school year. The participating boys experienced a 44 percent drop in arrests for violent crime and a 23 percent increase in graduation rates. 
The BAM-Sports Edition program focuses on devleoping skills related to emotional regulation, control of stress response, interpersonal problem solving, goal setting and personal integrity. These are social-cognitive skills that research shows predict success inIt includes small group sessions, out-of-class homework assignments and after-school sports activities. The sports activities are designed to reinforce conflict resolution skills and program attendance.
According to the research brief:

A growing body of research demonstrates that social-cognitive skills predict success in school and the labor market, as well as improved health and reduced criminal involvement. Because they are learned through experience, children growing up in disadvantaged circumstances are at elevated risk of developing deficits in social-cognitive skills.

“The program cost around $1,100 per participant, while its impacts on criminal behavior generated benefits to society that are valued on the order of $3,600 to $34,000 per participant, depending on how we measure the costs of crime,” said Jens Ludwig, Director of the Crime Lab, in a press release. “We have data from the most rigorous possible scientific study suggesting that it is not only possible to prevent youth violence involvement through pro-social programming, but that the returns on investment are extremely high. The benefit-cost ratios are on the order of 3:1 to 31:1.”
And BAM-Sports Edition isn't the only group working to reduce violence through social interaction and games. Playworks, a national nonprofit headquartered in Oakland, CA, uses recess to teach elementary school kids conflict resolution, leadership and problem solving skills. Recent research from Stanford and Mathematica shows that schools using the Playworks model report less incidents of bullying. 
Thanks to The Crime Report for the tip!
7/26/12 update: The original version of this post incorrectly said Playworks works with middle schools, when they actually work with elementary schools. 

Liz Wu is a Digital Accounts Manager at Prichard Communications, where she oversees digital outreach for Reclaiming Futures and edits Reclaiming Futures Every Day. Before joining the Prichard team, Liz established the West Coast communications presence for the New America Foundation, where she managed all media relations, event planning and social media outreach for their 6 domestic policy programs. Liz received a B.A. in both Peace and Conflict Studies and German from the University of California at Berkeley. She tweets from @LizSF.
 *Photo at top by Flickr user USAGYongsan

Updated: July 24 2012