Tykeam Jackson, 21, has spent his youth in and out of juvenile detention and jails, leading a life in Boston’s mean streets centered on gangs and guns. Over the past year, his outlook has changed. Even as a pending criminal case looms, he’s gaining confidence that he can break the cycle that has entangled him, with the help of a unique organization called Roca, the Associated Press reports. “They’ve gotten me in the right direction,” he said. “Since I’ve been with Roca, my whole life has done a 360.” Roca is a nonprofit that seeks to steer hundreds of Massachusetts’ highest-risk young men away from a return behind bars, using a distinctive blend of relentlessness and patience. Even troublesome participants are urged to persist with multi-year education and job programs.
If its unorthodox approach works — and private investors are betting millions of dollars it will — it might show a path forward for states and cities grasping for ways to bring down stubbornly high rates of re-arrest and re-incarceration. With more than 2.1 million people held in U.S. prisons and jails and the annual bill around $80 billion, there has been bipartisan action on many criminal justice reforms but no breakthrough on recidivism. Within five years, 77 percent of ex-prisoners in a 2014 federal study were arrested again, and more than half went back to prison. Roca’s program, with its pledge to investors that they’ll be repaid for its success, is unusual in many ways. “It used to be that public officials couldn’t even pronounce recidivism,” said Mike Thompson of the Council of State Governments’ Justice Center. “Now you’ll see governors include a whole plan to deal with it in their State of the State address.” Says Fred Patrick of the Vera Institute of Justice, “Gone are the days when prison folks didn’t care about how many times you came back through the front gate.”