The state has inaugurated a new and promising way of doing business that protects taxpayers from failed efforts and brings needed social services to the community — Pay for Success.
Under a law passed in 2014, the state has signed a deal with Tulsa’s Family & Children’s Services to pay for women who the agency diverts from incarceration through the Women in Recovery program.
Here’s the kicker: The state doesn’t have to pay for the women who wash out of the program, the ones who end up on the state’s dime in prison. The state pays if, and only if, the women’s lives are turned around, and they stay out of prison.
It’s one of the best uses of market incentives — commission payment — in the public sector that we have ever seen.
The project is only possible because of the commitment of the George Kaiser Family Foundation and other donors who have promised to provide the $2 million a year in capital to keep Women in Recovery operating until it starts earning state money.
Women in Recovery diverts women from long-term prison sentences for drug-related offenses. It offers supervision, substance abuse and mental health treatment, job training and more.
Under the contract, Women in Recovery will get a portion of its state money for every woman who completes the program, a process that takes about a year and a half. Another portion is paid for each woman who stays out of prison for two years. Another payment comes at three years. The final portion comes only if the woman stays out of prison for 4½ years.
The total state payment is a fraction of the costs to taxpayers if the same woman had gone to prison, and that doesn’t even factor in the state’s bonus: Instead of consuming tax money, the recovering woman will be paying taxes.
After the program becomes self-sustaining — and its proven track record makes that a safe bet — the Kaiser foundation has committed to move its funding to other related programs, meaning the process creates a sustainable and expanding means of rehabilitating women while protecting the public.
Congratulations to everyone involved in this innovative effort to fix one of the state’s most pressing problems while protecting taxpayers.