Pay for success and criminal justice

The origin story of pay for success (PFS) is rooted in the criminal justice system. 

At a prison in Peterborough, England, evidence suggested that a program providing post-release supports to a select group of people as they left the prison would reduce their chance of reoffending – but the local government did not have the money to fund the program. So, in 2010, an outside investor stepped in to cover the program’s costs on the promise of repayment if the recidivism rate fell. This “social impact bond” model was later exported to the US as “pay for success,” where it has been repeatedly applied to persistent problems in the criminal justice system.

Since 2010, PFS has been explored by dozens of communities around the US as a financing mechanism for addressing recidivism, juvenile justice, and the justice system-related costs of chronic homelessness. 

What makes criminal justice projects such strong candidates for PFS financing?

  • The multi-system involvement of so many people in the criminal justice system
  • The high costs – both financial and societal – associated with incarceration
  • The significant amounts of data already being collected by the criminal justice system

New Resources

Recent work by Urban experts supported by the Department of Justice's Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) examined the intersection of criminal justice and pay for success and produced three tools for researchers and practitioners:

Explore more insights from our researchers and practitioners on how PFS can be applied to needed changes in the criminal justice system, lessons learned from PFS projects addressing recidivism and juvenile justice, and what the research tells us about what works.

Resources on PFS and Justice System Alignment

PFS and CJS in Practice: Project Snapshots and Lessons Learned