Young Adults and Alternative Opportunities: Breaking the Cycle of Incarceration

This is the time to address the institution of punishment versus justice. We are failing in the criminal justice system that we now work with. “At yearend 2020, the number of prisoners under state or federal jurisdiction had decreased by 214,300 (down 15%) from 2019 and by 399,700 (down 25%) from 2009, the year the number of prisoners in the United States peaked. Forward-thinking programs are happening across the United States, focusing on this demographic in particular. Emerging adults are identified as that population from ages 18-25. Those involved in the criminal justice system have many of the same foundational characteristics. They come from marginalized communities, broken homes, poor educational experiences, and a general sense of hopelessness. Many of these young adults have experience with the system because of a family member’s involvement and need that outreach to keep them from tipping to the other side of the fence. They will tell you this is NOT the life they want. It’s just the opposite. These young people are “craving” to be different or better than they have been raised, yet, they don’t have the tools to know how.

In Massachusetts, there is ROCA. “Roca’s mission is to be a relentless force in disrupting incarceration, poverty, and racism by engaging the young adults, police, and systems at the center of urban violence in relationships to address trauma, find hope and drive change.” The program was established in 1998 and has five sites in Massachusetts, 1 in Connecticut, and 1 in Baltimore, Maryland. They work with young adults referred by various agencies as being “high risk” for offending. Through the use of community outreach workers and community partners, ROCA has made a difference in young men’s and women’s lives. They are the only organization of their kind to have a specific focus on High-Risk Young Mothers. There is a focus on education, skills training, and the use of Cognitive Behavioral Theory. Teaching these young people to think differently and providing them with a support system that they have been lacking has proven successful. “Roca retains 84 percent of participants annually, despite the fact that these are high-risk young people who are not ready, willing, or able to participate in programming. After completing the first two years of the program, participants significantly reduce their criminal behaviors: 93 percent are not rearrested, 95 percent are not reincarcerated, and 88 percent of those on probation comply with their conditions. In addition, graduates demonstrate significant employment gains: Although 83 percent of participants come to Roca with no employment history, 84 percent of those enrolled longer than 21 months are placed in a job; 92 percent of them keep the job longer than three months, and 87 percent keep it for six months or more.”




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One comment

  1. Hi Deb,

    The ROCA program truly sounds amazing and exactly what we need in every state; it is unfortunate that this program is only operating in a few states, especially with such high success rates for nonrecidivism, success on probation, and employment. It makes me wonder why this type of program is not available throughout the country, in order to provide the much needed therapy and support for our at-risk youth, especially because they are our future. Thank you for this information, and hopefully more states will get involved in this or something very similar; these youths need our help!


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