Addressing the “black box” of focused deterrence: an examination of the mechanisms of change in Chicago’s Project Safe Neighborhoods

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Objectives: Chicago’s Project Safe Neighborhoods focused deterrence program is an effective crime reduction policy. However, similar to other focused deterrence programs, prior evaluations have not empirically established the mechanisms of change believed to underlie the program. The purpose of this paper was to address this gap by examining the influence of offender notification meetings—a key component of the program—on three mechanisms: perceptions of risks associated with future offending, perceptions of police legitimacy, and adherence to community norms. Methods: Over a 1-year period, parolees attending the notification meetings were randomly assigned to complete surveys assessing each of the mechanisms immediately before the meeting (control) or immediately after (treatment). Results: Parolees in the treatment condition had higher perceptions of risk and police legitimacy compared to those in the control condition. Additionally, they were more likely to judge police as procedurally fair. The groups did not differ with respect to adherence to community norms. Within both groups, perception of risk was positively associated with motivation to stay out of prison. Police legitimacy was also positively associated with motivation for the treatment group, while community norm adherence was positively associated with motivation for those in the control condition. Conclusions: This study indicates that the offender notification meetings are working as intended with respect to the underlying mechanisms of change embedded in Chicago’s Project Safe Neighborhoods.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalJournal of Experimental Criminology
StatePublished - Jan 1 2019



  • Community norms
  • Corrections
  • Focused deterrence
  • Police legitimacy
  • Procedural justice
  • Project Safe Neighborhoods

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Law

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