‘It’s kind of fun to do the impossible’

Rob Owen, CEO of the St Giles Trust, reflects on his organisation’s involvement in the success of the world’s first social impact bond.

In 2010, St Giles Trust was involved in the world’s first ever Social Impact Bond (SIB) through The One Service at HMP Peterborough.  Led by Social Finance and involving a consortium of voluntary organisations, it aimed to tackle stubbornly high re-offending rates through using private investment capital to fund support for male prison leavers from HMP Peterborough who had short sentences – a group at that time who were not entitled to statutory support.

St Giles Trust’s role was to support prison leavers.  It involved working with them prior to, upon and after release to help with needs such as housing, medical issues, benefits and ultimately move them towards employment. We used our tried and tested Peer Advisor model which trains former ex-offender service users to become professionally qualified, highly credible paid caseworkers. Frontier Economics had evaluated it and found that it delivered £10 for every £1 invested in the model and reduced re-offending rates by an additional 40 percentage points.  It seemed a bomb proof approach to use on a project which hinged on demonstrable results.

17 social investors supported the service who would receive an outcome payment if there was a reduction in re-conviction events of 7.5% in the 12 months following release.  This would be evaluated in three cohorts.

Initially, St Giles Trust’s small team based themselves out of a local McDonalds as they started to engage some of the most challenging to work with prison leavers from HMP Peterborough.   We were given a list of names of individuals who were regarded as highly chaotic, frequent offenders to prioritise –the team called this list ‘the need plenty 20’.

The project grew, found premises in Bretton and other organisations joined the project, which became known as the One Service. The team worked hard to engage with extremely challenging clients and also forged partnerships with local agencies to ensure the clients got the support they needed.  Engagement with the service on the part of prison leavers was voluntary – no-one had a service forced upon them – but levels were high at 74% for the first cohort of prisoners we worked with and 87% for the second.

The One Service targeted a neglected group of individuals who are the most marginalised people in our society.  They have mental health needs, substance misuse issues, homelessness and many other social ills driving their offending.  For some of them, prison appeared to offer respite from their lives outside. Statutory agencies were often unable to reach them which is where we came in through our use of trained, skilled former offenders.

From 2010-2015, The One Service helped over 2000 men leaving prison.  Figures on the first cohort released in 2014 were good at 8.39% but not enough for an early pay out, but we were confident that the next cohort would.

The recent announcement has proved this.  The One Service achieved a 9.74% reduction in re-offending on the second cohort which will not only deliver for benefactors – who will see their initial investment repaid alongside a healthy interest payment – but also for wider society. Reductions in re-offending save the taxpayer, save lives through reducing future victims and meant the investors could for the first time hopefully reinvest their capital back into the charity sector which helps make society a better place for us all.

Rob Owen is chief executive of the St Giles Trust

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