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Breaking the Cycle of Violence One Neighborhood at a Time

Success Spotlight

In 2022, the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) awarded its first grants under the Community-Based Violence Intervention and Prevention Initiative (CVIPI). BJA's awards, part of the CVIPI managed by the Office of Justice Programs (OJP), help communities reduce violent crime through comprehensive, evidence-based violence intervention and prevention programs. While the initiative is new to BJA and OJP, the idea is not new to criminal justice practitioners working in the field.

One of the groups that focuses on violence intervention and prevention is Peace For DC, which was founded in 2018 to work with neighborhoods experiencing gun violence in Washington, D.C. Peace For DC employs community-based violence intervention (CVI) workers who engage with individuals at risk of participating in and/or experiencing violent crime. These individuals are often referred to Peace For DC via the school system or family and friends. Once Peace For DC receives a referral, the group meets with the individuals, and if they are interested, provides them with resources to take them out of the cycle of violence. With BJA's funding support of the CVIPI, Peace For DC will expand their programming in 2024 to reach 60 more men and women during their three-year grant cycle.

"We are going into two new neighborhoods in the District of Columbia that have had long-standing issues with each other stemming from crew violence and interpersonal violence. Peace For DC will bring in wrap-around services that include therapy and resources to assist with any educational and career goals," Executive Director Marcus Ellis stated. "Ultimately, we want to see the folks we work with get into employment, be able to take care of their families, and meet all of their needs."

Access to therapy, education, and workforce training is evidenced to reduce gang violence. Recent research shows the benefits of mental health counseling and mentoring, educational assistance and tutoring, and job training and professional development for CVI program participants.

Interrupting Violence

Stopping the cycle of violence starts at home, and that's where Peace For DC's community violence intervention workers begin. 

"We know the families. We go inside the home and make sure that the family is stable so that our participants can focus on bettering themselves and changing the trajectory of their lives." Marcus Ellis

That focus on home has helped numerous clients get back on their feet and escape a life where trauma and violence are daily experiences. 

"There was a young man who came through our program. He was a single dad with two kids, and they stayed in the shelter. He was also a returning citizen. Looking at him as an individual, Peace For DC staff designed a plan for him, helped him get benefits for his kids, and secured a two-bedroom apartment. He was able to get employment, and now four years later, this young brother is making like $80,000 a year working in government, taking care of his children," said Ellis.

This story is one of many from Peace For DC that demonstrates the success of community-based violence intervention strategies to prevent violent crime. These successes are driven by community violence interrupters who work hard daily to make connections within the communities where they live and now work.

Responding to Youth Violence

Community connections and the ability to interrupt violence are urgently needed in Washington, D.C. In November 2023, Mayor Muriel Bowser issued a public emergency to respond to youth violence. 

"We're dealing with young people, who during the pandemic, while a lot of the world was homeschooling and getting all the needs met, these young folks were just trying to survive.” Marcus Ellis

“CVI plays a part in that because we're still working and building on those relationships and digging into our educational systems to see how we're attaching young people back to learning. We've got to figure out how we make them feel like they're still a part of the equation because what we see right now is the most resounding cry for help I've ever seen."

Peace For DC is currently working with community partners to reengage youth to get them back into the classroom. School engagement and reconnection is an important part of the CVIPI work with teens and young adults because it functions as a protective barrier that prevents school dropouts and involvement in risky behavior, such as the violence officials and residents are seeing in Washington, D.C.

Relentless Pursuit

To reach the youth and young adults committing crimes—and those who have been victims of crime—Peace For DC is building a civic coalition that includes community members who typically wouldn't be at the table with government representatives, the business community, faith-based leaders, philanthropic organizations, and other nonprofits to bring CVIPI solutions to the area. The purpose of this coalition is to help streamline access to needed services and brainstorm ways to decrease violence in the most impacted neighborhoods.

“I believe that with the relentless pursuit of violence interruption, we can be successful in decreasing crime because we have already seen its success and the possibilities of CVI in many of our young adults in DC.” Marcus Ellis

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Date Published: January 29, 2024