New England News
3:55 pm
Tue February 4, 2014

Massachusetts Begins Juvenile Justice Initiative

Massachusetts has launched an initiative to reduce recidivism by signing a contract for the largest pay-for-success financial investment in the country.  The goal is to improve the lives of nearly 400 at-risk youth in western Massachusetts, reduce crime, and save taxpayers money.

The Springfield, MA office for the Roca program
Credit WAMC

Massachusetts will pay millions of dollars to Roca if the non-profit organization succeeds in reducing the number of days young men referred to its program spend in jail. The greater the success, the higher the payments – up to $27 million.

Michael Coelho, an assistant secretary with the Massachusetts Office of Public Safety and Security, said Roca was chosen for the initiative because the program has a 26-year history of working with young men ages 17 to 24, who have greater odds of going to jail than of getting a job.

"The ability to deliver a strong service and use data to improve what they deliver and strengthen the outcomes for this target population is the main reason they ( Roca) got chosen."

The first government payment to the program is not due for five years. The payments are based on benchmarks.  If there is a 40 percent reduction in the number of days spent in jail by program participants, Roca would be paid $22 million, which is what the state calculates it would save in incarceration costs.  

To receive the full $27 million, Roca must achieve a 70 percent decrease in days of incarceration, which would in turn save taxpayers $45 million, according to the state’s calculations.

Private investors -- not taxpayers -- assume the risk for the initiative.  $18 million in upfront financing came from six sources including Goldman Sachs and The Kresge Foundation. John Grossman of Third Sector Capital Partners, a non-profit advisory firm that secured the financing, said investors were impressed with Roca’s track record.

" They are doing important work in a space that is too often neglected in the Commonwealth and around the country."

Roca, which started in the eastern Massachusetts city of Chelsea 26 years ago and came to Springfield three years ago, uses an intervention model based on proven behavioral change theories. The four-year program involves intensive case management, education, employment and follow-up.

Roca founder and executive director Molly Baldwin said the pay-for-success initiative will bring 930 young men into the program, and 43 percent will be in western Massachusetts.

" And we are really honored to work the Commonwealth, all the funding partners, the probation department and the department of youth services to be able to implement this project. It is an extraordinary opportunity to show that this group of young men can change their behavior and contribute to society."

At an event Tuesday marking the launch of the initiative in western Massachusetts, 22-year- old Jarne Jones of Springfield talked about how his life has changed since coming to the Roca program last July.

"Before I came to Roca I was basically involved with gangs. I had guns. I was going the opposite of what I am doing now. Instead of making my community better I was making my community worse. I was contributing to the crime."

Jones now has a job at Lenox American Saw Blades in East Longmeadow.

The social and financial costs of recidivism in Massachusetts are enormous, according to state officials. Currently, 64 percent of young males released from jail will reoffend within five years. Only 35 percent will obtain a job within a year of release.

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