Social Impact Bonds in Criminal Justice: A Deal We Can’t Refuse?

Source: Jennifer R. Zelnick, Prison Legal News, August 28, 2015

But structural inequalities and improving opportunities are not the focus of SIBs. SIBs in criminal justice focus on what might be called “secondary prevention” – reducing recidivism, preventing incarceration for those already at-risk and increasing employment in the same populations. Those are useful goals and individuals may benefit from these services, but such projects are not going to address the social issues that disadvantage huge swaths of American communities. However, the model of SIBs, with a narrow focus on pay for success outcomes and cashable savings, precludes investment in primary prevention. The cashable savings of criminal justice SIBs include the cost of prison stays and in some cases the cost of public work that would be replaced by “work crews” of formerly incarcerated people. It does not seem likely that fixing underlying structural inequalities results in short-term cashable savings.