A Wise Investment?

The  New York Times reports that Goldman Sachs is investing $9.6 million in a New York City program intended to reduce adolescent recidivism.

In New York City, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg plans to announce on Thursday that Goldman Sachs will provide a $9.6 million loan to pay for a new four-year program intended to reduce the rate at which adolescent men incarcerated at Rikers Island reoffend after their release.

The Goldman money will be used to pay MDRC, a social services provider, to design and oversee the program. If the program reduces recidivism by 10 percent, Goldman would be repaid the full $9.6 million; if recidivism drops more, Goldman could make as much as $2.1 million in profit; if recidivism does not drop by at least 10 percent, Goldman would lose as much as $2.4 million.

An interesting bet, though its unclear how a reduction in recidivism produces a direct return for Goldman beyond a government handout. 

If the jail program does not succeed, MDRC can use the Bloomberg money to repay Goldman a portion of its loan; if the program does succeed, Goldman will be paid by the city’s Department of Correction, and MDRC may use the Bloomberg money for other social impact bonds, said James Anderson, director of the foundation’s government innovation program.

It seems that if they just floated a bond, it would cost a lot less, but then the government would have to pay it back regardless. This way, Goldman (and guarantor Bloomberg Philanthropies) takes the hit if the program fails.  Still the amount involved may be significant for kids at Rikers, but falls a bit shy of Goldman’s monthly bagel budget for new staff meetings.  Yes, Goldman is that kinda rich.

There is nothing wrong with doing well by doing good, and if Goldman can make enough money off it to fund clerical staff bonuses for one office for one year, that’s great.  But where will this money go?

The Goldman money will finance a program called Adolescent Behavioral Learning Experience, or ABLE, as a part of the Bloomberg administration’s year-old Young Men’s Initiative, which seeks to improve prospects for black and Latino adolescents. The jail program, which will offer counseling and education for an estimated 3,400 incarcerated adolescent men each year, will be run by two nonprofit organizations, Osborne Association and Friends of Island Academy, and overseen by MDRC.

Currently, nearly 50 percent of young men released from Rikers reoffend within a year.

This is where it gets scary. The  ABLE program is blessed with positive jargon, lofty goals and abject cluelessness.  Like almost every program that rises from the loins of academics, it’s high-minded, politically correct and grounded in utter fantasy.  For example:

Increase the number of high school graduates that are college and career ready by investing
in targeted group of test of schools to test, refine, and document best practices—then disseminate these practices system-wide

Ohh. That’ll fix ’em.  It’s got nothing to do with teachers that suck, parent(s) with no culture of education, no ability to pay for college even if they ever got there, no jobs, street-life where a kid is more likely to be tossed against a wall by a cop doing stop and frisk than fed three meals a day. Nope, the schools just need to be told of “best practices.” Problem solved.

There is a group in polite society that comes into contact with these adolescents on a regular basis. Can you guess who they are?  Correct! That would be criminal defense lawyers, and most likely institutional defenders.  They can tell you what they see in young people committing crimes, but nobody asks.

Want to stop crime by black and Latino youth? Give them the hope of a job.  Their role models for the past few decades are drug dealers, the only people in uptown Manhattan driving fancy cars and wearing flashy jewelry.  They get the women. They drink Cristal. They live the good life. 

Want to stop crime by black and Latino youth? Give them a reason to believe that they can walk down the street without having some cop grab them, throw them against the wall and haul them off to central booking because they didn’t like their attitude. No one becomes vested in law abiding society when they’re treated like garbage.

Want to stop crime by black and Latino youth? Give them a reason to believe they will some day own a home, put their kids through college, make it to old age without getting a bullet in their head.  They aren’t going to care about being educated in public schools if it leads nowhere. They need to believe they can do better, have a better life, by going to school and learning rather than hanging on the street corner selling dime bags.

Want to stop crime by black and Latino youth?  Give them a reason to believe that one day, they will be able to join polite society rather than be perpetual outcasts, looked at with hatred and disgust by the agents of the government who make absolutely certain that they know their place, at the bottom of society’s ladder, where they will stay for the rest of their lives.

These kids aren’t lab rats. They’re kids. They want what everybody wants, a cool future where they can be someone, have expectations of a happy, successful life.  With this expectation, there’s no reason to bother with school.  Why would anybody suffer a dozen years of school with a teacher reading the Times until his pension vests so that you can someday get a minimum wage job behind the counter of Popeye’s Chicken, where the best part of the day is smoking a blunt with the homies while hoping some 16-year-old gal will loosen up enough to let you become baby-daddy?

They need jobs. Well paying jobs. Like everybody else.

They need respect, to be treated better than animals by the uniformed representatives of the other side of society who walk their streets to make sure they don’t get too full of themselves.

They need to believe that if they play the chump game, go to school, study, work hard, fly straight, they can do better than they would selling dime bags on the corner.  The biggest joke of this initiative is that the guarantor of the Goldman Sachs loot is the same fellow who values stop and frisk above the constitutional rights of the adolescents he says he wants to help.  You can’t have it both ways, Mayor Bloomberg. You can’t treat them like trash while telling them how much you care about them.

Got a program that can do this?  At any price?  I didn’t think so.


13 comments on “A Wise Investment?

  1. John Neff

    A lot of folks a one paycheck from disaster and an arrest is the disaster. This kids don’t have a paycheck and an arrest destroys their future.

    You are correct what they need is a steady job where there are a few dollars left after they pay all their bills.

    I wish I knew how to make that happen but companies that are willing to employ them don’t want them to have contact with their customers or to handle money. That eliminates all sorts of jobs and a lot of that type of job is now being done by robots.

  2. Bruce Coulson

    You forgot another group that is in regular contact with these youths; the teachers (not administrators) of those inner-city schools. But I would bet no one asked them about the problems and possible solutions, either.

  3. SHG

    The problem with asking teachers is that you can’t tell the good ones from the bad without a scorecard, and they have a bit too much flesh in the game.  Not that all teachers would put their self-interest over their students, but an awful lot would, and many wouldn’t even realize they were doing it.

  4. Bruce Coulson

    It would be in the long-term self-interest of those teachers (along with everyone else) to provide the right answers to the question of ‘how do we reduce recidivism’; but I can see your point. Of course, I suppose using this grant money to improve school infrastructure, hire good teachers, and ending ‘stop and frisk’ would be out of the question.

  5. Marc R

    Very well-written, and resonates with me, but on deeper reflection I can’t see past what seem like platitudes spiced up. What’s the first step to give them hope? Have police perform less Terry stops? Legalize drugs, women and gambling? Sure your conclusions sound great but what’s sound? At least the grants get Goldman Sachs thinking about society’s future.

  6. SHG

    Maybe deeper reflection doesn’t mean what you think it does.  Try again.  Solutions don’t come easy, but diverting attention from real problems by throwing money on fantasy solutions doesn’t “get Goldman Sachs thinking about society’s future.” It gets a press release, some pats on the back and an excuse not to take a hard look at the real problems and hard answers.

  7. Bruce Coulson

    Goldman-Sachs is out to make money. Someone with authority in the company thought this proposal was profitable; either in publicity, return on investment, or something else. There’s nothing wrong with a company making money. But that is, and has to be, the primary focus of this grant, from G-S’s point of view. And if the grant proposal ideas are lacking (‘Let’s spend money to find out what the schools are doing wrong’) when schools are only a small part of the whole picture, then profit (for someone) is all that will come from it. The more complex a problem, the more difficult and complex the solutions (in general).

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