And Dontcha Come Back No More, No More, No More, No More

Every Friday I’m at the local county jail with a group of half a dozen or more guys, talking about the Bible and the Christian faith and life.  Most of the guys I meet are there for addiction issues – possession or use or selling drugs.  This is not the first time that most of them have been in jail.  Statistics say it is likely not to be their last time either.  In some ways, that’s good because it may be the difference between them being alive or dead.  Forced detox in jail is almost overwhelmingly viewed as a good thing by the inmates themselves.

But from a taxpayer’s perspective, it’s an expensive proposition.  I’d far rather that these guys got some help that might eliminate their addictions and help them get on with living healthier, productive lives.  That’s why I’m at the Rescue Mission every Wednesday, having similar discussions with the guys in their 1-year residential treatment program.  I want these guys to be successful, and so should you.  If for no other reason than that it’s a lot less expensive if they get over their addictions than if they keep relapsing.
There are plenty of much better reasons as well, but every citizen of our nation has a vested interest in what’s going on with our legal and prison systems.  And what’s going on more often than not is that the system works to keep people coming back.  Not that individuals necessarily do – I know several wonderful people in the legal and prison systems that are committed to really helping people as much as they can so they don’t return.  But at the end of the day, the system functions by people coming back.  
What if that weren’t the case?  What if everyone was equally vested in people not coming back?  Some communities (and companies) are beginning to explore this shift of focus.  Social impact bonds are the mechanism, and if you want information on them, here’s a great primer.  For even more information, check out these links.  It’s a bit complicated, but I like the direction it attempts to take.  I don’t have a problem with private industry making a modest profit if it overall lowers the impacts on taxpayers (ie. it remains cheaper to pay industry a profit for their up front investment if performance criteria are met than to pay to keep putting people back in jail).  The key issues would be oversight and a careful detailing of what the performance criteria are (how they are determined and quantified) before investors get their return.  

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