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.
"The goal is to shift youth attitudes and help them develop a perspective on how they can be leaders and impact their neighborhood in a positive way. Over time, this kind of work can help reduce violence. There is research and experience to back that up."
Students were also paid to attend a yoga class as part of the program's effort "to point them out of their comfort zone ... think differently and become more a leader in their own neighborhood," Valliere explained.
The NRI also paid teens from the Better Boys Foundation to march in the 82nd Annual Bud Billiken Parade on August 13, 2011, with Quinn, according to records and video of the parade.
"Their job was promoting positive messages, etc., which is what the parade is about," a spokesman for Quinn said.
An audit of one of the Neighborhood Recovery Initiative's lead groups -- The Woodlawn Organization -- uncovered a "lack of clear accounting and record keeping" and "questionable decisions." The group, which has a two-year contract, received $1.2 million before the state de-funded it.
According to the audit -- which is separate from the ongoing state audit of the entire NRI program -- The Woodlawn Organization used the money to buy $2,000 in American Express gift cards for two employees working for one of its subcontractors.
The two staff members "had to work far more hours over the course of the program than they were paid to do," said Joel Hamernick, director of the subcontractor, Sunshine Gospel Ministries.
Hamernick told CNN that his group got permission from The Woodlawn Organization "to make these two gift cards available to this staff in order to show our appreciation for their hard work."
Georgette Greenlee-Finney, the former executive director of The Woodlawn Organization, did not return repeated phone calls from CNN. James Taylor, attorney for The Woodlawn Organization, said the group would provide all documentation requested by the state for its audit of the NRI.
Illinois legislators, like Sen. Murphy, have been demanding specifics about whether the Neighborhood Recovery Initiative delivered on its promises.
"At first blush, this appears to have been a misuse of taxpayer dollars," Murphy said. "We've been asking for answers ... on where this money was spent, how it was spent. You know, this is state taxpayer money."
It's not only Republican legislators who have asked for more specifics about the NRI.
Rep. Jones sent a letter in August to the state agency overseeing the program asking for a "list of administration costs" associated with NRI and a list of groups that have submitted audits.
The letter was sent in August to Barbara Shaw, the former director of the Illinois Violence Prevention Authority, who has since retired from state government. Jones said he never received a response.
"There still needs to be some examination of where the money went," Jones said. "If the money didn't go to the anti-violence programs, I'm not going to let it rest on deaf ears."
Examples of the apparent misuse of the program's money don't surprise Mike Shaver, whose organization, Chicago Children's Home and Aid, received $2.1 million for its role as a lead agency for the Neighborhood Recovery Initiative.
He and others say the initiative was just too big, and providers were not equipped to evaluate which programs were working and which were not.
"We weren't able to get enough information about what was going on in our own program to understand whether we were having the desired impact," said Shaver.
Others involved with the Chicago anti-violence initiative underscored the successes of the program -- like keeping kids off the streets -- while acknowledging more needs to be done.
"We engage with the kids and things of that nature, do booster training and get them life skills and coping skills," said Lamont Coakley, an adult mentor. "It's just limited on the funds. If we can get funded to hire all the youth, then it would work.
"Because if we really look at it, when they're at their training, when they're at work, they're not shooting anyone."
Father Michael Pfleger, of the Church of St. Sabina -- another of the NRI's lead agencies -- said the program's overall success shouldn't just be measured by Chicago's crime rate.
"Let's not say because the NRI can't show evidence of crime being down that it's failed," Pfleger said. "No, I look at the NRI with the boots on the street and within the community that we're helping from getting worse."
That sentiment was echoed by the Illinois governor:
"It does work when you intervene, when you keep people on a positive path, doing good things for their community instead of getting involved with gang-bangers and drug dealers that afflict many communities, and use violence to kill children in particular," Quinn said.
"Most people who have looked at this issue, who are experts, say the best way to fight the violence is to have after-school programs for children who can get in trouble after school, have programs of mentoring so they have positive role models, have programs where they can have a job, even if it's just a part-time job, a seasonable job."
But Murphy said those temporary jobs are just "another way of providing welfare."
"You're not giving young people a chance to advance by giving them this flier-passing-out job," Murphy said. "You're not creating an environment where job growth that is lasting is going to take hold."
Today, the Neighborhood Recovery Initiative has been scaled back, with a much smaller budget of just $15 million. It's also being managed by a different state agency.