Candidates address proven-risk youth

Campaigns make commitments, Lowell group says

This past August, staff and youth from the United Teen Equality Center (UTEC) in Lowell launched our Youth Violence Prevention Policy Series. Gubernatorial candidates visited UTEC and engaged in roundtable discussions on various policy issues with respect to reducing youth violence by focusing on work with “proven-risk” youth. Differing from “at-risk” or “high risk” youth, UTEC defines “proven-risk youth” as those young people who already have a history of serious criminal and gang involvement, ages 16-24, and who likely represent the largest return on investment within our communities (from a public safety, public health, and economic perspective).

As a final part of this series, we issued a survey focused on policies that we believe would positively impact proven-risk youth across the Commonwealth. All candidates responded (Charlie Baker, Martha Coakley, Evan Falchuk, Scott Lively, and Jeff McCormick) and, most notably, all candidates stated their universal commitment to each of the four specific policy questions listed in the survey.

Task Force for Proven Risk Youth? As a mechanism to facilitate ongoing policy development and a commitment to outcomes delivered, all candidates were first asked if they would support “the creation of a commission or task force to focus on the development of new programs for proven-risk youth, and to coordinate an annual report card for how Massachusetts is performing on outcomes specific to proven-risk youth.” All candidates answered yes.

New Funding for Reentry Services? Notably, all candidates responded yes to the question posed around “supporting a new funding source for community-based re-entry programs aimed at reducing the Commonwealth’s current recidivism rate (greater than 60 percent).” They were also provided the opportunity to share “any criminal justice reform areas that (they) would emphasize to allow for such increased funding.” Baker stated that “investing in re-entry programs in order to reduce recidivism is a sound investment in our young people and communities which will also save the state money in the long-term.” Coakley mentioned “the importance of shifting funding from prison expansion, to focus on effective prevention measures, including effective reentry programs, behavioral health counseling, and substance abuse treatment.” Falchuk esponded, “Policies that reduce – and eliminate – the need to incarcerate so many people will reduce the extraordinary expense of incarceration, but also the lost opportunities each one of these young people represent.” McCormick responded, “This is also an issue of poverty and access to opportunity. Judges need more discretion in sentencing and the State needs to provide the resources to prevent kids from entering into the system in the first place.” (Lively did not elaborate upon his “yes” to the question.)

Sustain SSYI Funding? All candidates also said yes, they would “support fully-funding the current Safe and Successful Youth Initiative (SSYI) line item at $9.5 million, or expanding it, to serve the highest-crime communities in the Commonwealth.” In its survey, UTEC noted that SSYI is one of the only state sources to specify street outreach work as an approach to proven-risk youth. Baker: “I believe in proactively engaging proven-risk youth and enlisting those who have been successful in changing the lives of youth across the commonwealth to be part of the planning and public safety process. I will work with legislators and communities to ensure that the Safe and Successful Youth Initiative (SSYI) continues to receive the adequate funding it needs to complete its mission in the Commonwealth.” Coakley: “I understand the importance of the street worker and interrupter model of addressing violence, and I will make greater funding for the Safe and Successful Youth Initiative a priority.” Falchuk: “Every young person deserves the best chance to get ahead, and these programs are a proven way to help them get off of a path that far too often leads to a tragic end.” McCormick: “Funding needs to be increased and allocated to street workers to do the important work that they do in the community. In addition, we need to look at the whole child, from education to jobs to healthcare, and reduce violence among our youth.” Lively did not elaborate on his “yes.”

Dual Generation Program? Given that many proven-risk youth are parents themselves, UTEC drew upon an Aspen Institute report that calls for policy reforms to focus on a two-generation approach to best break the cycle of violence and poverty. Two-generation approaches address the needs of both vulnerable parents and their children. Candidates were asked if they “support a specific 2-generation program to provide comprehensive services for proven-risk youth while simultaneously offering early education programming for their children.” All candidates also answered yes.

Established in 1999 and driven by evidence-based data, UTEC’s mission is to ignite and nurture the ambition of our most disconnected youth to help trade violence and poverty for social and economic success. UTEC combines street outreach and gang-peacemaking work with case management, education and employment offerings within a social enterprise-based model, including an infusion of civic engagement programming. With statewide recidivism rates averaging at 65 percent and the cost of incarceration nearly $45,000 annually, UTEC and similar programs make a compelling case for cost savings through investing in an approach that includes outreach and comprehensive reentry services. Despite the proven-risk histories of its youth, UTEC’s recidivism rate is only 14 percent – four times stronger than the state average. UTEC also helps coordinate the New England Streetworker Network.

Meet the Author
Meet the Author

Geoff Foster

Guest Contributor, UTEC, Inc.
The full voter education guide with the candidate’s complete responses can be found here.

Gregg Croteau is executive director of UTEC and Geoff Foster is the organization’s director of organizing and policymaking.