State partners with private sector to curb crime

prison bars jail
Credit: Jan Vargas/Flickr

Gov. Deval Patrick rolled out a new project Wednesday to break the cycle of Massachusetts crime and incarceration in the lives of many inner city young men, partnering with the Chelsea-based Roca to invest $27 million in support services, skills training and job placement that will cost the state nothing unless it succeeds.

“There are far too many of our young at-risk citizens who have a light that needs to be discovered. It needs to be discovered by caring adults and those caring adults have to help those individuals discover and change their behavior, and that’s what Roca has been doing over and over and over successfully,” Patrick said, joining members of Roca and the private and philanthropic organizations making the investment to get the project off the ground.

The seven-year project will use a form of financing known as social impact bonds that will collect private and philanthropic money to run the program. Only if an independent evaluator deems the initiative a success will the state pay back those grants and loans using a combination of tax dollars and an $11.7 million grant from the U.S. Department of Labor.

“The idea of bringing innovation to bear to solve our social problems and to address our community needs is huge,” Patrick said.

At Roca headquarters, Ralph Bonano, 20, of Chelsea, described how his life was headed down a troubling path before the staff at Roca “harassed” him into attending programs, showing up at his house and his friends’ houses until he relented. On probation for robbery, Bonano said he has not violated his probation, has a job and is going back to school.

“Ralph’s future matters to the folks downtown. It needs to matter to the people downtown. We have common stake and we ought to act like we have common destiny,” Patrick said.

While other states are experimenting with social impact bonds, administration officials say Roca’s juvenile justice program will be the largest in the country. The program is projected to reach 929 young men in cities like Boston, Cambridge, Chicopee, Everett, Holyoke, Lynn, Medford, Springfield and Winthrop.

Third Sector Capital Partners secured $18 million in private financing for the project, including $8 million in loan financing from Goldman Sachs, $1.5 million from The Kresge Foundation, $1.5 million from Living Cities and $6 million in grants from the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, New Profit and the Boston Foundation.

John Grossman, partner and general counsel with Third Sector Capital Partners, will serve as project manager for the initiative. The contracts include an option to extend the program for up to two additional years, if successful, to reach an additional 391 young men.

According to the administration, 64 percent of young male criminals reoffend within five years of their release from prison, while only 35 percent gain employment within a year. Roca will aim to reduce the number of days young men in the program spend in prison by 40 percent. Patrick said the reduced incarceration rate will produce the savings necessary to pay the state’s portion of the program.

The program’s success — evaluated over time by a company called Sibalytics — will also be measured by job earnings for youth in the program and a series of interim benchmarks evaluating contacts and outreach to at-risk youth.

Molly Baldwin, executive director of Roca, said the organization targets at-risk young men who statistics have shown to have a greater chance of going to jail than getting a job. The served population includes young men who have aged out of the juvenile justice system or the Department of Youth Services, or who are under 24 and on adult probation.

“This project is about changing those odds. It’s about confronting the stubborn trend of incarceration and poverty. It’s about saying to these young men, ‘We will not leave you behind. Jail is not an option,’” Baldwin said.

Baldwin said Roca’s program is about teaching young men how to act and think differently, how to make good decisions for their future, and giving them the skills and experience of holding a job to succeed on their own in the workforce. “Our relentless outreach is part of our secret sauce,” she said.

Among those who attended the event in Chelsea were Secretary of Administration and Finance Glen Shor, incoming Labor Secretary Rachel Kaprielian, Boston City Councilor Tito Jackson, Suffolk County District Attorney Dan Conley, Suffolk County Sheriff Steven Tompkins, Sen. Linda Dorcena Forry, Reps. Russell Holmes, Aaron Vega and David Rogers and Juvenile Court Chief Justice Michael Edgerton.

While the recidivism reduction program is the first major foray into the use of social innovation bonds for the Patrick administration, Shor said the state is “very far down the road” on another project, working with the United Way and the Mass Housing and Shelter Alliance to target chronic individual homelessness, which could be launched in the “coming months.”

“The Pay for Success model takes our shared values of collaboration, innovation and measurement of success to a whole new level in the Commonwealth, and it is exciting to see it go from theory to practice to improve young lives in our communities. As the lead partners in the second Pay for Success contract that has been announced by the Commonwealth and is currently under negotiation, United Way, Massachusetts Housing and Shelter Alliance and Corporation for Supportive Housing will implement this new model to reduce chronic homelessness among individuals,” said Jeffery Hayward, chief of external affairs for the United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley.

Follow Metro Boston on Twitter: @MetroBOS


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