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Prisons: Desperate for Innovation

April 24, 2012

Living Cities CEO Ben Hecht argues that in order for there to be large-scale social change, there needs to be more public sector-led social innovation. I wholeheartedly agree. And outside of education, is there any public institution in more desperate need of social innovation strategies than prison?

As my friend and fellow writer Michael Corbin brilliantly points out, America’s prison system is an abject failure unencumbered by cost-benefit analysis. We allocate billions of tax payers dollars annually to support an incarceration epidemic that resembles a revolving door where more than four in ten offenders nationwide return to state prison within three years of their release. We can no longer afford our prison culture nor should we want to with that sort of anemic return on investment.

While government is busy experimenting with innovative financing vehicles like social impact bonds (more commonly referred to as “pay-for-success” bonds here in the States) to back improved “offender reentry” outcomes, forward-thinking organizations like Safe and Sound Campaign have already figured out a way to reduce prison spending and increase outcomes.

If this innovation proves successful, hopefully it will quickly displace the old (failed) way that government has funded and operated public safety and corrections.

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