Early Results of Peterborough Social Impact Bond Experiment Spark Debate

The initial results of an internationally known experiment with social impact bonds being conducted in Peterborough, England are being hotly debated by critics and supporters who disagree over how successful it has been.

The program was originally intended to reduce recidivism by ex-offenders, with payments made by the British government to outside investors based on program outcomes. However, reports emerged in April that it is being replaced with a new program, called Transforming Rehabilitation, that is intended to reduce recidivism across Britain as a whole.

Opponents who argued that the decision to phase out the Peterborough experiment constituted a major retreat from social impact bonds are now pointing to new numbers that indicate that it failed to meet its initial goals for reducing recidivism. According to the National Union of Public and General Employees, “the data released this week shows the scheme will come nowhere near achieving what proponents claimed it would when the project was launched.”

In fact, the program appears to have come within 2 percentage points of its first-year target. As pointed out by an article in Next City, a study by  QinetiQ and the University of Leicester showed that the program in Peterborough achieved 142 reconvictions per 100 prisoners, an 8.4 percent reduction when compared to the control group results of 155 reconvictions per 100 prisoners.  If the Peterborough program had achieved 2 fewer reconvictions — 140 instead of 142 — it would have reached its 10 percent target.

Despite falling short of this initial goal, the reduction in reconvictions still represented an improvement compared to national trends, which actually worsened over the same time period. “Nationally, the equivalent figures show a rise of 10 per cent from 143 to 156 reconviction events per 100 offenders,” according to a report from the nation’s Ministry of Justice.

While it appears to be reworking its recidivism programs, the British government does not seem to be backing away from social impact bonds more generally. Within days of the news that the Peterborough experiment was being phased out, the British government announced a new £30m social impact bond fund to improve educational and employment outcomes for youth aged 14-24.

Related: RAND report on Peterborough program

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