Can Goldman Sachs stamp out recidivism?

Some companies turn a profit by keeping people locked behind bars. Goldman Sachs is trying to do just the opposite.

A longtime financial investor, Goldman Sachs entered a new market this week: recidivism.

In coordination with Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Goldman Sachs Group annouced Thursday that it will be investing $9.6 million in Adolescent Behavior Learning Experience (ABLE): a program designed to keep adolescents from from returning to prison.

In New York City, demand for evidence-based solutions to the City's recidivism problem is particularly high. As a press statement from the Mayor's Office pointed out Thursday, nearly half of those released from the City's corrections system return to it in less than a year.

The ABLE program hopes to reduce recidivism by providing education, counseling, and personal responsibility skills to inmates at New York City Riker's Island. If the program reduces recidivism by even 10 percent, Goldman Sachs will recoup its $9.6 million investment. If recidivism drops even further, the bank could earn an additional $2.1 million.

Among policy experts like Wendy Erisman and Jeanne Bayer Contardo, evidence for education programs like ABLE is clear. In their 2005 study for the Institute for Higher Education Policy, the pair wrote:

For example, one analysis examined 15 different studies conducted as opposed to other types during the 1990s and found that 14 of these studies showed reduced recidivism for former prisoners who had participated in postsecondary correctional education. Recidivism rates for these individuals were, on average, 46 percent lower than for ex-offenders who had not taken college classes (Chappell 2004).

The intersection of prisons and private industry is far from new. First introduced in 1983, the private prison industry has grown to encompass 1.6 million prisoners across 30 states. According to The Sentencing Project, a Washington, D.C.,-based nonprofit, the two largest players, the Corrections Corporation of American (CCA) and The GEO Group, posted revenue of $2.9 billion in 2010 alone.

Investment by Goldman Sachs in the ABLE program, however, presents a striking departure from the prison industry's business model. Rather than trying to turn a profit from keeping convicted criminals in prison, Goldman is hoping they can prevent them from returning.

[BusinessweekThe New York Times]

Photo: Paul Lowry/Flickr

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