police 2019

(Unsplash, 2019)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Baillie Aaron, Founder & CEO, Spark Inside


Crime and violence are woven into our social fabric. They top every politician’s priority list, make daily newspaper headlines, and cause tremendous harm to society.

We already have solutions to these problems. Around the world, we are seeing pockets of innovation in reducing violence and crime. Countries such as Brazil, Scotland and the US are leading the way by approaching criminal justice radically differently.

Brazil is notorious for its violent and riot-fuelled jails. Its reoffending rate sits at 70%, and it has the third highest prison population in the world.

However, a national non-profit organization, the Brazilian Fraternity of Assistance to the Convicted (APAC), is changing that by running prisons focused on humanity, responsibility and trust. At APAC-run prisons, prisoners study, participate in recreational activities and eat healthy meals in clean, spacious facilities. At its best, the reoffending rate in APAC prisons is one tenth of the national average, at just 7%.

Across the Atlantic, the Scottish city of Glasgow was known as the murder capital of Europe, before the Violence Reduction Unit (VRU) was established. The VRU reframed the violence epidemic as a public health issue, bringing together multiple agencies from beyond the criminal justice system – health, education and social work – to tackle the root causes of violent crime. In Glasgow’s case, these were poverty, inequality, and addiction. As a result, recorded crime in Scotland is at a 40-year low.

In the US, a country with over 2.3 million people behind bars, an evidence-based policy approach called Justice Reinvestment is gaining traction in several states. Officials in Pennsylvania are shrinking the budget for prisons and reinvesting the savings in education, health, housing, addiction and mental health support to tackle the drivers of crime. Early results show that in states taking a justice reinvestment approach, total recidivism and the overall crime rate is reducing.

US correction costs are spiralling and reoffending rates remain high.
Image: Justice Center

Despite their strong track records, these innovative interventions remain small-scale and on the margins of social justice reforms. Meanwhile, violence and crime remain persistent global problems.

How do we scale these effective, local solutions, in order to achieve social justice, and ensure that we are improving society for everyone, around the world?

One approach has been to create global non-profit organizations to deliver services internationally. In recent years, this organizational structure has been criticised for losing touch with local needs, and therefore delivering less effective services, with one-size-fits-all programming.

So, how do interventions remain locally-responsive, while driving forwards global scale to maximise impact for all? A solution has emerged, derived from corporate models for expansion, which is known as social replication.

What is social replication?

Social replication is a means of enabling non-profit service delivery organizations to scale their impact beyond their direct work, through partners.

The methods range from tightly controlled franchising, through to loosely controlled open-source dissemination. The grounding premise is that, while local organizations and communities are the experts in what it is that they need to flourish, many innovations in the social sector have packaged components that can be brought in and adapted.

The advantage of social replication is that models proven to successfully reduce violence and crime in local contexts, could be expanded for global impact through pre-existing local organizations, which already have community traction, funding and infrastructure in place to deliver.

While the model has been proven with various types of social services, there is still a question of whether local justice interventions can scale globally in this way.

Spark Inside, a UK-based charity reducing reoffending and violence in prisons through professional coaching services, is seeking to find out.

Spark Inside

With a coaching model proven to work in London, Spark inside has been approached by organizations working in prisons across the world – from the US, to Morocco and Peru – interested in replicating its approach.

Spark Inside’s team was initially sceptical of the idea of pursuing social replication. It felt more comfortable thinking about expansion in a traditional way, building offices in other cities and creating a global NGO. But the associated infrastructural costs were high, and there was a concern that Spark Inside would lose its innovative edge.

The other alternative was to not expand at all, and remain a high quality, innovative local service – but with limited impact, and knowing that any other organization wishing to pursue a similar approach to coaching in prisons would need to start from scratch unnecessarily.

To provide the greatest benefit to the largest number of people, while retaining its innovative local edge, Spark Inside decided to try a new approach, known as social licensing.

After receiving expert consultancy from Spring Impact, Spark Inside is starting to license its programmes to other charities working in prisons. Licensees receive a comprehensive operational manual from Spark Inside covering aspects of delivery, from contacting prisons, through to recruiting coaches and evaluating results.

In exchange, they will pay a licensing fee to Spark Inside and agree to maintain certain aspects of the model to ensure quality control. Outside of those, licensees have the flexibility to tailor the programme to meet the needs of their participants, prison and culture.

Once Spark Inside has proven the concept of national scale, it will embark on licensing its models internationally. It aims to encourage other organizations proven to reduce violence and reoffending locally, to build towards a global impact.

Social replication in an era of growing inequality and crime

Alongside Globalisation 4.0, there is a question mark over whether our public institutions can withstand the changing nature of crime, violence and their causes, which include deepening social inequality.

The cost of failure is high: not only in terms of reduced safety and increased violence, but also economically. Each year $81 billion is spent on incarceration in the US alone.

It is clear that we can no longer afford to think exclusively locally when it comes to reducing crime and violence; nor is this an efficient or effective approach. It is not efficient to spend time and resources “reinventing the wheel” in communities around the world, when best practice already exists.

Let’s take advantage of the opportunities around us to scale local justice solutions, for global safety impact.