'A lot of baloney'
The Illinois governor strongly denied there was any political motivation behind the Neighborhood Recovery Initiative.
"That's a lot of baloney, and you know they know that," Quinn told CNN last month. "As a matter of fact, the people making those charges were all running against me. It's all politics."
Quinn insisted that the initiative was a direct response to the incessant violence that gripped Chicago during the summer of 2010.
"The bottom line is, I went to the funerals of three police officers in 2010," Quinn said. "I spoke at all three of those funerals. Gang-bangers had shot down those officers."
Quinn said he formed an anti-violence commission -- which included Chicago residents who had lost loved ones to violence -- that made recommendations that led to the Neighborhood Recovery Initiative.
"That commission recommended having youth programs, opportunities for mentorship and jobs to keep young people away from the gangs," Quinn said. "I followed their advice and we've followed that all the way through. And this is not political. It's designed to help everyday people stay away from violence, protect their safety, make sure their young children, especially in poor neighborhoods that have no jobs, have a better way."
But records obtained by CNN show the NRI program was under way before those recommendations were released.
After a series of open meetings in Chicago and other areas, the commission issued a list of recommendations on September 13, 2010, according to the commission's chair, Teresa Garate. Those recommendations -- like the program itself -- focused on four areas: counseling and alternative education, prisoner re-entry, job creation and community development.
But a week before those recommendations were issued, Chicago aldermen began receiving a letter from the Illinois Violence Prevention Authority's (IVPA) director about the NRI program. The September 7, 2010, letter stated that "the initiative is on a very fast track, so we are requesting that you respond immediately to this request." The IVPA is the state agency that oversaw the NRI.
When asked about those records, a Quinn spokesman confirmed that the program was in the works before the commission issued its recommendations.
What the program actually did
Politically motivated or not, it's hard to argue that the nearly $55 million spent on the Neighborhood Recovery Initiative helped stem violence in Chicago. Two years after the program was implemented, there have been 476 murders in the city, a nearly 20 percent increase over 2011.
The governor defended the program, saying that he had to do something to address the situation.
"You take it one year at a time and you try to evaluate the programs, and find out what is working and what isn't working so well," Quinn told CNN. "And you focus on the things that work well. But you don't just say we're not going to do anything."
The program was set up so quickly that there was no formal way to measure its results, according to hundreds of documents reviewed by CNN and interviews with those who participated in the program.
Records provided to CNN show that $54.5 million was spent on the NRI program, mostly through the governor's discretionary fund, which doesn't require legislative approval.
The only data on the program's accomplishments come directly from the Illinois Violence Prevention Authority. The NRI states that it created more than 3,484 jobs, provided counseling for more than 3,100 children, and helped 1,175 ex-cons.
The NRI's self-reported results are being examined by researchers from the University of Illinois at Chicago. No formal report has been issued.
CNN reviewed hundreds of documents related to the program and conducted dozens of interviews with program participants which show how some of the money was spent:
NRI participants were paid $8.75 an hour, first to receive mentoring from adults, and then go out to pitch positive messages and hand out fliers in their neighborhoods.
Lazaro Vasquez, 18, said although he couldn't explain how the message in the fliers he was handing out would help stop violence, he supported the program.
"I just know that I'm trying to do my best that I can (to) pitch that message to youth, and let them know that we're trying to help the community," he said.
In another instance, students earned $8.75 an hour to visit the DuSable Museum of African American History and to the National Museum of Mexican Art.
"It was an effort to expose the students to a broader perspective on the cultures in their neighborhood and provoke some discussion," explained Dan Valliere, executive director of Chicago Commons, one of the lead agencies under the Neighborhood Recovery Initiative.