By John Kelly
Youth Services Insider has learned that Youth Advocate Programs (YAP), one of the few national providers of community-based programs for juvenile offenders, has entered into its first pay-for-success (PFS) venture.
The Harrisburg, Penn.-based outfit is partnering with several foundations and stakeholders in Indiana on a two-year, $800,000 project to serve youth in Marion County, better known to the world as Indianapolis.
“YAP is already here on the ground, doing preliminary work,” said John Brandon, executive director of the Marion County Commission on Youth (MCCOY), which will serve as the intermediary and fiscal sponsor for the project.
Indeed, YAP has already tapped Ed Walker to lead the project, and he has already hired four of the six paid, professionally trained advocates planned for the project. The funders for the venture are the Annie E. Casey Foundation, The Lilly Endowment, the Clowes Fund and an anonymous donor.
For the uninitiated, PFS projects offer government entities a chance to verify the impact of a model or program before funding it. Private dollars fuel the project, and those funders are paid back with interest if certain benchmarks are met.
It is a nascent structure, having been introduced in the United States just a few years ago. The first PFS project, which sought to reduce recidivism among young offenders at New York’s Riker’s Island jail, did not succeed.
The Marion County Juvenile Court, headed by Judge Marilyn Moores, will begin to refer certain juveniles to YAP who would otherwise have been committed to residential or secure facilities. YAP will deliver its brand of community-based programming, which pairs youth with professional mentors and offers supportive work programs to connect teens with employment opportunities.
Click here to read our profile of YAP’s long-running program in Fort Worth, Texas. In Indianapolis, the contract will call for YAP to serve 15 youths at any given time, and a minimum of 30 during each of the two years.
In YSI’s opinion, this Indianapolis project is noteworthy for quite a few reasons:
Money, Not Outcomes, As Benchmark
Most (if not all) of the early PFS projects in the criminal justice space are based on recidivism rates, with repayment to funders contingent upon fewer people being re-arrested or re-convicted.
The success of the project will be decided based on the project’s ability to realize cost savings for the system. Here, in a nutshell, is how it works.
In order for the project to be considered a success, Marion County will have to have “saved” 1,649 bed days each of the two years by referring youths to YAP. The residential placement rate for the county is $242.51, so those saved bed days would total up to about $800,000; the cost of the project.
“We kept it pretty basic,” said YAP Vice President Carla Benway. “We’re going to look at the number of days a person was in YAP, the cost of that, and compare it with the daily rate for commitment to a residential facility.”
If that happens, the PFS funders are remunerated. But they won’t be paid back in dollars and cents…
Guaranteed Continuation…Sort Of
Someone correct us if we are wrong here, but YSI is pretty sure that no government has issued a promise to continue a model or program if/when a PFS project panned out. According to people involved with the Indianapolis venture, the State of Indiana has come close.
Benway said the administration of Gov. Mike Pence (R) assured PFS participants that if the venture met its objectives, the state would issue a request for proposals to continue the program through the Department of Children’s Services.
Brandon said that assuming cost savings meet the benchmarks, there is a “great possibility” that the referral of offenders to community corrections will continue, with YAP presumably having a chance to stay on as a provider.
In a traditional PFS structure, the funders put up money, and then they get paid back in money. In this project, the funders essentially said, “Pay us back by continuing the program.”
Of course, if Pence isn’t governor when the project ends, there’s nobody to hold accountable for that promise. But it’s still probably the strongest assurance received by a PFS project for youth services.
Potential for YAP
The 42-year-old organization has already spread its reach to several new states in recent years, and currently operates in 20 states. The publicity of a successful PFS venture could be a real catalyst for the nonprofit, which recently lost its visionary founder Tom Jeffers to cancer.
Casey’s Toe Dip
The Indianapolis venture is modest compared with other PFS ventures (the Massachusetts project, involving Roca Inc., involves north of $25 million). But in our eyes, the fact that some of the funds are coming from Casey is significant.
The foundation has a national grantmaking portfolio, and its juvenile justice priorities include halving the nation’s use of deep-end incarceration over a decade. It’s certainly possible this will not be the last PFS project Casey supports, especially if it works out.