The NYC ABLE Project for Incarcerated Youth

The Problem

Of the adolescents discharged from the Rikers Island Jail, nearly half will return within one year. When adolescents return to prison or jail, their reincarceration interrupts their education, weakens their job prospects, and harms families and communities. Recidivism is also costly to government: New York City spends over $1 billion each year to operate its jails.

The Basics

Location: New York, NY

Policy areas: Recidivism, workforce development

Population served: All individuals entering the NYC jail on Rikers Island ages 16-18-years-old and staying more than four days (est. 3,000/year)

Service providers: Osborne AssociationFriends of Island Academy

Size of investment: $9.6 million

Maximum payments possible: $11.7 million (not including cost of intermediary and evaluation)

Investors: Goldman Sachs Urban Investment Group ($9.6 million loan)

Intermediary: MDRC

Other partners: Bloomberg Philanthropies ($7.2 million loan guarantee)

Evaluator: The Vera Institute of Justice

Evaluation methodology: A quasi-experimental study compared recidivism bed days for a cohort of participants entering custody to a cohort that entered custody prior to the start of the program. 

Outcome payor: NYC Department of Corrections

Outcome that yields payments: Recidivism bed days avoided

Timeframe: 4 year service delivery term, repayment term, and evaluation period (terminated after 3 years)

Project start: February 1, 2013

Project end: August 31, 2015 (terminated early due to failure to meet outcomes)

Photo via Shutterstock.

The Intervention

Intervention: Adolescent Behavioral Learning Experience (ABLE) uses Moral Reconation Therapy (MRT), a cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) intervention. MRT was considered well-suited to the Rikers Island Jail because it has characteristics such as open groups and self-pacing that are conducive to an environment where adolescents arrive and leave unpredictably. It is designed to improve social skills, problem solving, self-control, and impulse management.

Evidence base behind the intervention: A meta-analysis of 58 studies shows that CBT interventions can reduce recidivism by about 25 percent. A number of studies have also been conducted on MRT’s effectiveness. A 2005 meta-analysis concluded that in general, MRT-treated groups show rearrest and reincarceration rates about 20-35 percent lower than that observed in nontreated offenders. This study, consistent with the prior meta-analysis, shows that short-term recidivism is cut by at least 50 percent in MRT-treated offenders. A 20-year study, published in 2010, also found “significantly lower rearrest rates" in the long-term. Another meta-analysis, this time published in 2013, found a “small but important effect on recidivism."

The effectiveness of this intervention for the target population had not been evaluated, and the service provider had not provided this intervention previously.