Background The usual modes of incarceration have not been found to curb violent crimes significantly. A jail-based programme called the Resolve to Stop the Violence Project (RSVP) was created with the hypothesis that exposing men with a history of serious, recent and often multiple violent crimes to a certain specifiable set of social, cultural and psychological conditions would reduce the frequency and severity of their violent behaviour.

Methods Court and criminal records for 1 year following release were reviewed for 101 inmates who had spent 8 weeks or more in the programme and for the same number of those who had spent 8 weeks or more in regular custody.

Results Inmates who participated in RSVP had lower rearrest rates for violent crimes (−46.3 per cent, p < 0.05) and spent less time in custody (−42.6 per cent, p < 0.05). The decline in violent re-arrests increased with greater lengths of stay (−53.1 per cent, p < 0.05 for 12 weeks or more; −82.6 per cent, p < 0.05 for 16 weeks or more).

Conclusions Multilevel, comprehensive prevention approaches that: emphasize making available to violent individuals the kinds of tools they need in order to develop non-violent skills and reality-based sources of self-esteem; increase their capacity to experience feelings of empathy and remorse; and provide opportunities to take responsibility and amend the injuries they have inflicted on others and on the whole community, may play an important role in reducing the cycle of violent crime.