Abell Salutes: The Violence Intervention Program at University of Maryland’s Shock Trauma

July 2003 / Salutes / Criminal Justice and Addiction

For saving victims’ lives and taxpayers’ money.

It is an all-too-familiar picture: the Shock Trauma helicopter winging ominously overhead, and the sense that some one is badly hurt and is being helped, and, in many cases, a life is being saved. But the picture cannot show that the victim is very often a repeat victim—that he or she is being treated by Shock Trauma for the second or perhaps a third time, and at a cost to the community in each instance of another $42,000.

In 1998 Drs. Paul Stolley and Carnell Cooper completed a study that examined the horrific waste both in human terms and in dollars of this recidivism. Findings from the study prompted the leadership of Shock Trauma, with support from the Governor’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention and Friends Research Group, to create the Violence Intervention Project (VIP). The Abell Foundation contributed start-up and ongoing operating funds to the VIP, which has a twofold mission: to structure an intervention designed to reduce the recidivism and to create a system to measure results of the intervention. Eighty repeat victims who agreed to participate were randomly placed into one of two groups, the intervention group where 40 participants received a comprehensive range of support services, including drug treatment, counseling, job training and placement, and the control group, where participants received only the minimal services provided to repeat victims.

Data gathered after three years revealed significantly positive results for the intervention program: the control group was three times more likely to be re-hospitalized than the intervention group, and was more than two times more likely to be convicted of a violent crime during the period of the intervention, with a high percentage of individuals being sent back to prison. Only 20 percent of the control group were employed, as opposed to 82 percent of the intervention group.

A strong evaluation component focused on cost-effectiveness of the intervention, and a three-month, six-month and one-year follow-up of the participants in both groups. The hypothesis being tested was that a cost effective hospital-based intervention program reduces violent recidivism and crime, and leads to significant economies. Using the $42,000 per admission, in any given year, as 10 re-admissions are eliminated, the savings to supporting agencies, including Maryland taxpayers, is $420,000.

But for the victims in VIP, the program is more about turning life around: One writes, “I had been shot, my life had no meaning. I was introduced to VIP—and my whole life changed.” And another, from prison, “I will be putting my full attention to the VIP program just as soon as I am released. It’s nice to know you’re in my corner.” And, “I came into Shock Trauma from a gunshot wound. Since, VIP helped me with counseling, and drug addiction program. VIP is a shot of hope for inner-city youth.”

The Abell Foundation Salutes VIP, its Program Coordinator, Dawn Esslinger, and the entire staff, for operating a program that saves victims’ lives and taxpayers’ money.