SPRINGFIELD - Roca is barely three months into their public and privately funded Pay-for-Success initiative in Hampden County, and is undaunted that their "commodities" have been largely rooted in failure.
Men 17 to 24 years old; multiple incarcerations or heading that way; substance abuse histories; domestic rancor - they are dealing with the highest of the high-risk, organizers admit. In fact, this is their wheelhouse. They embrace it and the goal of keeping these men from jail and prison.
"We're built for being told to bug off," said Roca founder and CEO Molly Baldwin, who began doing street outreach with gang members in Chelsea 26 years ago. "I don't think most young people want to go to jail for the rest of their lives. I don't think they want to die young."
The pay for success model is part of a fledgling "social-impact bond" movement that has drawn the likes of the Goldman Sachs Group., other private investors, grants and state and federal funds totaling about $38 million for the Roca effort. However, Roca will not get paid unless their goals are met five years out. In the meantime, Roca has had to borrow against their predicted success, aiming to fund-raise $4.7 million on its own.
Neither Roca nor the taxpayers assume any of the risk. That falls to the investors.
The organization won the contract through a competitive bid process and based on a track record of doing better than the government in terms of recidivism. When the state conducted a 10-year look back at the issue, Roca had done 33 percent better than the state on that front.
It aims to serve 924 young men in their Chelsea and Springfield hubs over three years; avoid 248 incarcerations and reduce recidivism by comparison with a control group by 45 percent. Forty-three percent will be the break-even point, Baldwin said. The program is comprised of three phases: engagement, behavior change and support for long-term success. Participants are randomly assigned; there are 25 so far in Hampden County and 120 statewide.
Staff members who attended an editorial board meeting at The Republican/MassLive on Tuesday said their early philosophy is based on "relentless outreach," meaning "don't take no for an answer."
The outreach is jokingly referred to as stalking, but to a positive end. Youth workers have become masters at the hard sell.
"It's a challenge but we don't quit," said Keith Rhone, assistant director at the Springfield office along with Christine Judd. "Even if they want to be here one day, slam the door in our faces the next day and threaten us the day after that. We never give up."
Staff are required to have two to three contacts with their clients per week
The earliest, measurable goals are to reduce or eliminate their time in jail, and keep them returning to a job for 60 consecutive days.
Roca folds failure, or relapse, into their formula. On average, participants will get fired from minimum wage jobs five to seven times, according to Judd. Roca workers then reassess: was it for smoking on the job? Arriving late or not at all? Sexual harassment? Drug use? They tailor counseling for all, and send them back out to work.
Their bottom lines are reducing criminal behavior and helping them learn to work.
"This is what you have to do to live in this world. If you've been to jail three times for selling crack, you're obviously not that good at it," Baldwin said, in defense of an honest living.
Roca has partnered with the Hampden County Sheriff's Department, Hampden District Attorneys office and local employers.
In 2013, Roca's data showed that of those who had completed the intensive component of the model that year, 89 percent had no new arrests; 95 percent had no probation violations and 69 percent had retained employment.