Grant to Address Youth Recidivism in Massachusetts

BOSTON — An $11.7 million federal grant from the U.S.Department of Labor’s Workforce Innovation Fund will help Massachusetts increase employment opportunities and reduce recidivism in young men coming out of the state’s juvenile justice system.

The grant is part of the Pay for Success program, which provides funding for programs based on their successful outcomes, and will benefit the organization ROCA. With locations in Chelsea, Mass., and Springfield, Mass., ROCA serves very high-risk youth by providing intensive services through a detailed intervention model.

“Our main goal is to change long-term behavior, keep kids off crime and out of prison, get them into long-term employment and save the state money that they’re wasting on an incarceration system that, quite frankly, doesn’t work,” said John Ward, senior associate for development and policy with Roca.

The model spans two years of intensive programming and two years of follow-up programs for young men who have aged out of the juvenile justice system.

“Our department of youth services here is pretty affective when they have custody of young people. The issue itself has to do with when young people age out and the department no longer has custody,” Ward said. “There’s a massive gap in services.”

When young people age out of youth services, Ward said, they are often without the proper education, life skills and employment they need to successfully integrate into an adult world. The gap in services is often when young people from the youth services department tend to make poor decisions, he said.

With the funds from the grant, Roca will be able to expand capacity of the project and avert incarceration while attaching participants to the workforce, Ward said. This will reduce incarceration and the crime that leads to incarceration, he said. Incarceration in Massachusetts’ already crowded prisons comes at an incredible cost, Ward said, and the high recidivism rates worsens the issue.

“That means the success rate in terms of rehabilitation is quite terrible and the investment is essentially wasted,” he said. “You start to stack these numbers together and you start to see a really clear picture of a system that is dysfunctional.”

Roca is much cheaper than incarceration, $24,000 over their four-year model, he said, and programs provide participants with long-term behavior change.

The intervention model at Roca is divided into three phases. Phase I is the intensive engagement phase, which includes engagement activities, pre-vocational training activities, education programming, drop in life skills group and basic transitional employment. Phase II is entitled the intensive behavior change phase in which youth participate in such activities as a life skills group, job development and connect to employment and post secondary education. Phase III continues and advances life skills, vocational training and education.

According to Roca, for participants who completed Phase III of the program, 79 percent retained employment, 70 percent made educational gains, 90 percent have had no new arrests and 100 percent of participants have no new technical violations.

Senators Elizabeth Warren and Edward Markey announced the funding award last week. The funding will assist 535 young men ages 16 to 22 that are exiting the state’s juvenile justice program, according to the senators’ joint statement.

"These funds will help keep young men and women in the workforce, out of detention facilities and on a path towards success," Markey said in a statement. "If we can cut costs to society as we help form better members of society, that is an effort worth all of our support."