Locations: Chelsea, Boston, Springfield, Lynn (Massachusetts area) Each location supports surrounding cities.
Roca was founded in 1988 in Chelsea, MA by Molly Baldwin. Over the years, they have expanded their locations to Springfield, Boston, and Lynn, serving anyone with a criminal record. However, they recognize that they cannot help everyone, and after trial and error, they found that their program was most effective for young men between the ages of 17-24.
Roca aims to disrupt the cycle of incarceration and re engage young people through intensive and transformational relationships as positive adults, providing them the education and life skills they need to be successful and not recidivate.
Roca serves 17-24 year old young men who are disengaged from society and are at the highest risk of court, drug, and gang involvement. Most of the young men drop out of high school, have few resources and opportunities, and are connected with institutions only during arrest or when in front of a judge.
Given that Roca focuses on the highest risk young men, they are not always ready, willing, or able to change for the better, even if there are programs and jobs readily available for their participation. As a solution, Roca’s youth workers relentlessly reach out to these young men for 6 months in hopes of gaining trust. By knocking on doors every day, meeting with the young men’s family members during times of conflict, joining a probation meeting, setting up meetings with lawyers, helping out with groceries, or giving car rides from point A to point B, the youth worker’s goal is for the young men to rely on Roca for support. Roca aims to serve people both inside and outside of prisons; sometimes Roca meets with people while they are in prison through district attorneys.
In addition, Roca is very persistent in keeping partnerships with institutions that are involved in the lives of these young men. From the police, to courts, schools, probation officers, hospitals, and street workers, Roca is interested in knowing who is in contact with their participants.
After trust is established between Roca and the participant, Roca begins to focus on their behavior. For 6 to 18 months, Roca teaches participants what is deemed as acceptable in a social setting. Whether it be at work, at the grocery store, or on the train, participants have to learn how to control certain emotions and break habits formed both before and during imprisonment. Through stage-based programming, participants undergo GED programs, workforce readiness training, and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) at their own pace to rewire their emotions, awareness, and flexibility for behavioral change. Stage-based programming, the specific CBT curriculum used in Roca, was created by a clinic called Community Psychiatry PRIDE at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH)/Harvard Medical School to ensure flexible cognition and impulse control for traumatized minds. There are 10 skills taught in the curriculum that self-awareness and emotional literacy in the participant. With each lesson taking at least 20 to 30 minutes to teach, students learn how to break social barriers quicker than if they were to learn such skills on their own. The youth workers are able to go over these skills anywhere, which increases the likelihood of the skills being solidified for the young men.
In addition, Roca also provides a transitional employment program in which participants are given the chance to be hired, fired, and rehired multiple times until they can remain in the same job for 60 days. This program helps teach the soft skills needed to understand white culture, solidify a routine, and prevent exerting anger during inappropriate moments. After completing a full 60 days of work, all of the progress the participant has accomplished is recorded into a resume, and they are ready to search for a more formal job.
The youth workers for Roca vary. Some people are hired with a high school diploma, while others are hired with a masters degree. A youth worker can have a felony conviction. Roca states that youth workers need to be good listeners, learners, passionate, and open minded to new experiences.
After the first two years of trust and behavior change classes, youth workers focus on employment and behavior change retention in order for participants to continue using the skills they’ve learned.
In Chelsea, Roca has a small program meant for young mothers who are gang or court involved. The program holds about 150 to 200 young mothers. All of Roca’s programs serve from 800 to 1000 people at a time.
Roca has a “Pay for Success” model also called Social Impact Bonds, in which Roca has private investors that have invested approximately $30 million into Roca. If Roca remains successful, the Social Impact Bonds enables the government to pay both Roca and the private investors with interest. This model allows Roca to continue growing without much financial stress. The program costs 25 to 30 million dollars to run for 5 years. Massachusetts taxpayers save millions of dollars by not having the young men recidivate back to jails and instead become taxpayers themselves. Roca is confident that they can continue to prove their success, because of their database known as Efforts to Outcomes (ETO), created by the software company Social Solutions. Roca tracks their participant’s progress, who they contact, how many seconds/minutes it takes for them to respond after a knock on their door, what program they were in, for how long, under which instructor, and what their engagement level is to that instructor. Failure and relapse is also built into the database in order for participants to learn how to fail and try again.
What could be improved:
Roca wants to be used as a diversion program in court, in which offenders are taken to rehabilitation treatment programs rather than serve time in prison or jail. They can provide a letter and testify with real data, specifying the classes offered to participants, stories of transformations, and progress reports.