Boston organization rehabilitates young adult criminals

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Disaffected youth on the mean streets of Boston who repeatedly land in prison are getting rehabilitative help from a nonprofit organization called Roca.

In a February “TEDx Talks,” founder and CEO Molly Baldwin explained that the 30-year-old, data-driven program is an intervention model designed to engage the highest-risk young adults who seem to have zero desire to change their criminal ways.

“They are angry, they are left out, they are depressed, and they often cause harm – and no one wants to be with them,” described Baldwin of her clients. She further explained the group’s tactic of “relentless outreach,” which she likened to “stalking.”

“We go look for the people on our lists over and over, knock on their doors, and we don’t even care if they like us. We brush off the ‘eff yous’ and find them even when they’re hiding from us. We don’t really put a GPS in your drink, but we do go again and again,” explained Baldwin.

Roca members can be found perusing the courts and jails, asking police for the 50 people they arrest the most and roaming the streets looking for the most hardened young criminals to whom to offer second chances.

Roca offers them a “get-your-life-together school,” said Baldwin, adding that some gang members can’t come to programming because of their dangerous affiliations, so they provide roaming teachers and will even give workforce readiness classes on street corners.

“We run educational classes and pre-vocational programs, and we drag young people out of bed. They can come for a day or for a week, get mad at us, threaten us, get high, disappear, and we go back and get them again.”

The organization also works with local police, but Baldwin admitted that a positive view on law enforcement wasn’t always their outlook. “We started out as the traditional street outreach group, believing in ‘us vs. them’ and ‘love the kids and hate the cops!'” said Baldwin, noting that its attitude has changed to “now we love the cops.”

Baldwin pointed out that Roca saves the government money because it doesn’t have to pay for the cost of housing an inmate in prison.

Financed by investors, including Goldman Sachs and the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, Baldwin noted that Roca is actually a business.

“If the evaluator says we’re successful after five years, the government pays, and the investors get their money back. It’s a new way to do business, and this is no small thing – we’re talking about over 1,000 young men, and potentially saving the government millions,” she said, adding that research from Harvard found that in the space of three years, Roca was able to reduce future incarceration by 35% when compared to a similar group of young people. Data analysis also predicted that Roca could result in a 65% reduction in future incarceration over five years.

“I know that change is possible,” stated Baldwin, “and change means changing ourselves first so we can help the young people change. And they can change. We have to stop pretending that it’s okay that so many young men of color are murdered. We have to stop pretending that jail is the solution.”

H/T: TEDx Talks

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