Russell Webster

Russell Webster

Criminal Justice & substance misuse expert and author of this blog.

Social Impact – ONE year on

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Most voluntary sector projects publish an annual report. Not many are greeted with the level of interest which met yesterday’s publication of the first report  of the ONE project, the Peterborough Prison resettlement project which is funded by Britain’s first Social Impact Bond.

The project is funded to the tune of £5 million raised from 17 private investors in the UK and USA. If it succeeds in cutting the re-offending rate of the 3,000 short term prisoners it is designed to help over a six year period, the investors will receive a return on their investment funded by the Ministry of Justice and the Big Lottery Fund. They need to cut re-offending rates by 7.5% to make a return. Critically, for the ONE project, re-offending is measured by a frequency measure – the combined number of reconviction events. The HMP Doncaster payment by results scheme which is also designed to reduce re-offending rates, and which launched on 12 October 2011, will be measured on a binary basis, simply whether released prisoners offend or don’t in the year following their release.

Since the formal measuring of outcomes will not be available for four years after launch (to allow for one year post-release, the time for any court cases to take place and data to be collected), this first annual report cannot tell us very much apart from a profile of the prisoners the ONE project is working with.

The project succeeded in assessing 473 of the 537 prisoners who were released from HMP Peterborough in the 12 months to 9 September 2011. Indeed they worked with an additional 73 prisoners pre-release who subsequently became ineligible for the scheme because they were transferred to another prison or ended up being sentenced to more than 12 months. There will be no payment for working with these prisoners under the PbR approach which might be important for less generously funded projects.


Only just half of these 537 were released to the Peterborough area – immediately presenting the project with a challenge to make sure that the other 48% also received a co-ordinated resettlement service.

The report makes it clear just how challenging it is to provide an effective resettlement service to short term prisoners – and how important the ONE project can be. Of those who were assessed:

  • 93% had an accommodation need
  • 82% had an employment, training or education need
  • 82% had a finance, banking or debt need
  • 68% had a substance misuse problem
  • 50% had a health need

The window to engage with clients in prison – key to developing an effective aftercare plan – is small with this group of short term prisoners serving an average of seven weeks.

The annual report is not in the position to provide outcome measurements, nor does it seek to give any impartial view of the scheme; like most in-house annual reports, the tone is predominantly self-promotional.

Nonetheless, the report succeeds in bringing the scheme to life by presenting views from a number of partners and offenders. The project director, Janette Powell, writes convincingly of the advantages of the ONE Service. Two seem particularly important.

First, the fact that the project is securely funded for a six year period means it has time to become fully integrated into local patters of provision and for prospective clients to become aware of it and take up its opportunities.

Secondly, the project is not subject to onerous monitoring of all its inputs and processes – it merely focuses on its primary goal of successful resettlement and the reduction of re-offending. This potentially allows clients to make progress at a speed that suits them and to find the form of support, and helping agency, which best meets their needs.

Next year’s annual report should give more clues to whether this approach is proving successful.


Readers interested in Social Impact Bonds and payment by results generally should access the FREE resource pack available on this site.


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Payment by results is not a free lunch

There’s no free lunch. Yet across the country, advocates of Pay for Success (PFS), or Social Impact Bonds (SIBs), serve up this alternative private financing model as a cost-free, risk-free silver bullet to support critical, yet underfunded, public services.

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