‘Violence-Free’ Zones Improve Behavior and Performance in Middle and High School Students, Baylor University Study Finds

March 20, 2015

WACO, Texas (March 23, 2015) — A youth violence-reduction mentoring program for trouble-plagued schools in urban centers has contributed to improved student behavior and performance at high-risk middle and high schools in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and Richmond, Virginia, according to findings of a new Baylor University case study.
The "Violence-Free Zone" (VFZ) is the national model of mentoring students in areas with high levels of crime and violence. The VFZ mentoring program is designed to address behaviors that result in truancies, suspensions, violent incidents, involvement in drugs and gangs and poor academic performance in public middle and high schools.
Four evaluations of VFZ programs conducted between 2007 and 2013 show positive impact, including a unique return-on-investment (ROI) analysis of a VFZ high school in Milwaukee, according to study leaders Byron Johnson, Ph.D., director of the Program on Prosocial Behavior in Baylor's Institute for Studies of Religion, and William Wubbenhorst, non-resident fellow at Baylor, scholar in faith-based and community initiatives and co-president of Social Capital Valuations, LLC.
The case study also includes an evaluation of school-level improvements at two VFZ high schools in Richmond, as well as the impact of the Milwaukee VFZ program specifically on youths directly receiving mentoring services from the VFZ "Youth Advisers" — adults who work full time in the schools as hall and cafeteria monitors, role models and mentors. They work closely with school safety officers, teachers and counselors to provide a support system for students.
Among the key findings:
1. A four-year study (academic years 2007 to 2010) of the VFZ Program in Milwaukee's School for Career and Technical Education showed a:

  • 44 percent reduction in the average number of behavioral incidents per VFZ student per month
  • 79 percent reduction in average number of suspension days per VFZ student per month
  • 23 percent reduction in truancy incidents per VFZ student per month
  • 9.3 percent increase in GPA per VFZ student
  • 24 percent higher rate of graduation from high school than non-VFZ students
  • 8 percent higher college enrollment rate (as compared to the Wisconsin state level)
  • 64 percent increase in the number of students reporting a more positive school climate (as compared to the year prior to the VFZ program start)
  • 2. A Return-On Investment Analysis of the Milwaukee school's program showed an estimated lifetime savings of $8.32 for every $1 invested in the VFZ program, based on reduced administrative costs from fewer suspensions; reduced police costs from service calls; reduced juvenile detention costs; lower truancy rates; savings from reduced number of auto thefts within 1,000 feet of the school; savings from reductions of such high-risk behaviors as drinking, violence against intimate partners or violence against oneself; and projected increases in lifetime earning associated with higher high school graduation and college enrollment rates.

    3. A four-year study (from academic years 2009-2012) of overall school-level trends of the VFZ program in Richmond showed a:

  • 44 percent reduction in the average number of suspensions per student
  • 27 percent reduction in the average number of suspension days per student
  • 18 percent increase in the average grade point average

4. A one-year study (academic year 2013-14) of VFZ students in three middle schools and eight high schools in Milwaukee showed a:

  • 7 percent decrease in the average number of non-violent incidents per VFZ student per month
  • 31 percent decrease in the average number of violent incidents per VFZ student per month

The Milwaukee Violence-Free Zone program was created and is directed by the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Neighborhood Enterprise (CNE) and implemented in Milwaukee schools by CNE's community partners, Running Rebels Community Organization and the Milwaukee Christian Center. The Richmond program was operated in partnership with the Richmond Outreach Church.
"The VFZ initiative not only is measurably effective in reducing violence, it is cost-effective," said CNE President Robert L. Woodson. "It produces saving to the community by avoiding court and incarceration costs and by promoting attendance and academic achievement. It makes it possible for teachers to teach and students to learn."
For more information about the Multi-State Mentoring Research study, visit ISR's website at
and click on the Violence Free Zones study; or visit the Center for Neighborhood Enterprise's website at www.cneonline.org


Baylor University is a private Christian University and a nationally ranked research institution, characterized as having "high research activity" by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. The University provides a vibrant campus community for approximately 16,000 students by blending interdisciplinary research with an international reputation for educational excellence and a faculty commitment to teaching and scholarship. Chartered in 1845 by the Republic of Texas through the efforts of Baptist pioneers, Baylor is the oldest continually operating University in Texas. Located in Waco, Baylor welcomes students from all 50 states and more than 80 countries to study a broad range of degrees among its 12 nationally recognized academic divisions. Baylor sponsors 19 varsity athletic teams and is a founding member of the Big 12 Conference.


Launched in August 2004, the Baylor Institute for Studies of Religion (ISR) exists to initiate, support and conduct research on religion, involving scholars and projects spanning the intellectual spectrum: history, psychology, sociology, economics, anthropology, political science, epidemiology, theology and religious studies. The institute's mandate extends to all religions, everywhere, and throughout history, and embraces the study of religious effects on prosocial behavior, family life, population health, economic development and social conflict. While always striving for appropriate scientific objectivity, ISR scholars treat religion with the respect that sacred matters require and deserve.