“After the ACI: Going the whole ‘9 Yards’ works,” announced the ProJo on its front-page on Monday.
Mass incarceration and crime are two of the biggest and most expensive challenges facing the country, and the ProJo reported exciting evidence that Rhode Island has developed a successful response. The evaluation of 9 Yards, a prisoner reentry program run by OpenDoors, found that those selected for 9 Yards were 71% less likely to be convicted of felonies and spent 67% less time in prison in the first year after release from prison in comparison to the control group. The results are strong enough that they are considered statistically conclusive, and its hard to find results this good for any social service program nationally.
“We knew that if we could provide the large amount of support necessary to help people overcome the many obstacles they face after prison, we could have a real impact on the revolving door,” said Sol Rodriguez, OpenDoors Director in the ProJo. “And it is working.”
As the founder and director of 9 Yards, I’ve seen first hand over the last four years what works and what doesn’t work in our efforts to stop the revolving door of the criminal justice system. In my TEDx talk in 2014, I talked about how prisoner reentry work is like pushing a boulder up a hill. If you don’t push long enough and hard enough to get over the top, the boulder just rolls back down to where it started. 9 Yards has been uniquely successful because it gave us the time and the resources to focus on a small number of people and really make a difference. And we specifically chose those people that really needed the help–high risk men coming out of the ACI with multiple felonies on their records, low levels of employment and education, and high rates of addiction. These are the people that are almost guaranteed to commit new crimes and end up back in prison–75% go back within five years.
Our report found that the control group (9 Yards is a randomized controlled trial) were sentenced to an average of 145 days more in prison and were more than 3 times as likely to be convicted of a felony. This has huge implications for crime control and prison policy because it demonstrates what so many of us have believed for so long—there are better ways to dealing with crime than spending $50,000 a year to lock someone up, and there are better ways to dealing with addiction than a war on drug users.
The other truth behind these numbers is that they are not strong because our clients are doing so well, they are strong because the alternative is so bleak. Some of the men I worked with have achieved great things, and some have found a tentative stability through hard-work and great willpower, but most are still struggling day-to-day to stay employed, stay clean, and stay out. But the histories of the other men, the men who were not offered the rare lottery pick to participate in our program, read like a choose-your-own adventure story where every option leads to the same place. Out of the 50 men in the control group that we tracked, almost 40% went back to prison in one year, and things just get worse from there. Eighteen months for drug delivery, five years for gun possession, thirteen years for guns and drugs, three years for Breaking & Entering. Life-time opiate addicts are warehoused for five years and then returned to the same streets they came from with very little if any support. Before long, they have a $200/day drug habit and are robbing houses at a break-neck speed or are dead of an overdose. It is readily apparent to everyone that the status quo is dangerously dysfunctional.
Prison presents an opportunity, an opportunity to help someone transform their life. I’m not saying prison is a good thing, I wish we didn’t have to have them. But people leaving prison are almost always genuinely motivated to never go back, and 9 Yards has shown what it takes to make that happen. It’s not easy, but neither is the alternative.