Gang Resistance Education and Training (GREAT) Program Evaluation
The U.S. Department of State has awarded CARA, the Central American Research Alliance, a $2 million grant to evaluate the Gang Resistance Education and Training (GREAT) program in El Salvador, Honduras, Panama and Costa Rica. Together with Florida International University and the University of Central America in El Salvador, CARA will work closely with students, parents, youth and police to evaluate the effectiveness of the GREAT program and make recommendations for future implementation of the program in the region. The GREAT evaluation is CARA’s inaugural research endeavor.
The Pulte Institute for Global Development at the University of Notre Dame launched CARA in early 2022, with the guidance of Tom Hare and Estela Rivero, two researchers who understand the importance of community-based research and its impact on policy. Hare, a senior researcher who has lived, studied and worked in the region over the past 20 years and wrote the book “Zonas Peligrosas: The Challenge of Creating Safe Neighborhoods in Central America,” is leading the GREAT project team alongside Rivero and Laura Miller-Graff, a Pulte Institute faculty fellow and associate professor of psychology and peace studies. “This is the first time the GREAT program will be evaluated outside of the U.S., and the results of the study are likely to have major implications for how the U.S. supports gang and violence prevention in the region going forward,” said Hare.
For many years, Central American countries have grappled with issues of crime and youth violence. Street gangs appeared in most Central American countries several decades ago, but they have followed remarkably different paths. While in El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala, street gangs evolved to become what many considered national threats to society, in Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and Panama, they remained focalized urban problems. However, studies conducted in Central America have also revealed that the factors behind youth violence and gang formation are similar across the region. The GREAT program aims to mitigate those risk factors through a school-based intervention program. GREAT is implemented by preventive police officers to educate students on the risks associated with delinquency and to develop channels of communication with youth. To evaluate the program, the research team will measure GREAT’s resulting outputs and outcomes, through scientifically validated evaluation methods. Among the questions that the team will seek to answer with this evaluation are:
- To what extent does gang membership and attitudes towards gangs differ between middle school students who participated in the GREAT program and those that did not?
- How does the GREAT program affect middle school students' risk-seeking and their ability to respond to peer pressure and bullying?
- What’s the effect of the GREAT program on middle school students’ attitudes towards the police?
By performing an evaluation that examines behaviors and attitudes related to gangs and violence, the GREAT team will be able to present evidence to policy-makers in the U.S. and in Central America as they establish priorities in the coming years.