Manitoba looks to private sector to help reduce youth recidivism through social impact bond

By | July 8, 2020

The Manitoba government is looking to reduce youth recidivism rates through the private-public partnership known as social impact bonds — an approach the NDP and Liberals say is ineffective but one the province says holds promise.

The province is seeking proposals from some combination of businesses or non-profits to devise a way to keep youth from chronic run-ins with the justice system.

“This social impact bond is an innovative way for us to work with the private sector and community groups to find new solutions to this pressing challenge,” Justice Minister Cliff Cullen said Wednesday in a statement.

The province’s vision is for a program rooted in Indigenous traditions and will involve family of the youth.

About $460,000 of government funds would be invested in a Winnipeg location, along with as much as $230,000 for a second site in Thompson, for three years of the project.

Justice Minister Cliff Cullen suggested the social impact bond approach holds promise as a way of reducing youth recidivism rates in Manitoba. (Austin Grabish/CBC)

Cullen’s department is looking to do this through what’s known as a social impact bond.

The bonds are funded through the private sector to begin with. If some of the social outcomes and cost targets are met, the government then repays the business.

In recent years, the Pallister government has raised social impact bonds in several different contexts as a valid tool for finding solutions to complex social challenges through public-private projects.

The current expression of interest is for a social impact bond meant to reduce recidivism rates of youth between the ages of 12 and 18 who are either in custody, under supervision orders or involved in restorative justice programs, the province said.

The province suggested social impact bond partnerships would allow for a new approach to an old issue without the government taking on financial risk. The province will provide oversight to the one or more successful service providers, as well as help work on a business plan together to promote the idea to possible investors.

NDP justice critic Nahanni Fontaine says the province should simply invest in proven organizations, rather than trying to use social impact bonds. (Thomas Asselin/CBC)

But the NDP’s justice critic said social impact bonds aren’t effective.

Nahanni Fontaine said the bond system also funnels money away from front-line organizations in the community.

“The Pallister government is choosing to waste money on failed programs that don’t work,” Fontaine said in a statement. 

“If they were really committed to helping youth they would just invest the money in the organization[s] that are proven to make a real difference.”

One such program is the ManCor Prison Industries program, which the province has made cuts to, Fontaine said.

Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont called social impact bonds “a scheme to exploit misery for profit and call it charity.”

He suggested the economist who came up with the idea has since rejected how governments around the world are choosing to implement them.

“The Pallister government is gambling on the lives of young offenders,” Lamont said in a statement.

“If it pays off, investors get a profit. If it doesn’t, investors get a tax writeoff. It is disgusting and immoral exploitation of vulnerable young people.”

The request for proposals is posted on the MERX website, with an application deadline of Aug. 10.

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