Former Prisoner-Turned-Reentry Advocate Talks Second Chances on SiriusXM Radio

What makes Safe Streets & Second Chances’ approach to inmate reentry into society different from others? According to the organization’s executive director, John Koufos, it’s all about real-time research, timely policy intervention and a connected system.

“The way these projects have gone on in many states is, you’ll see years and years of research and then years later they’ll come out with results of what the research shows — and then make policy recommendations a decade later,” Koufos said recently on the David Webb Show with Mary Walter. “In fact, I think someone did a study that took about 17 years from the time research begins to when real policy gets developed.”

Safe Streets & Second Chances partners with Florida State University’s Institute for Justice Research and Development to conduct research that is used in real time to inform more effective reentry policies. The ultimate goal of the program is to change the way prisons operate so that incarcerated individuals begin receiving personalized reentry plans starting on day one of their sentences.

“This is critical, very critical,” Koufos said. “And it doesn’t happen in most states.”

Other programs use a one-size-fits-all approach, which does not successfully reduce the recidivism rate, the rate at which former inmates re-offend and get sent back to prison.

Many prisons, he explained, do not give inmates comprehensive intakes; they don’t consider any criminogenic factors. Then, when people are ready to re-enter society, they are handed off into a disconnected system that doesn’t address each person’s individual needs.

The New Approach

Safe Streets & Second Chances is partnering with Florida State University to conduct research on a new method, called the Five Key Model for Reentry. Developed in collaboration with researchers, practitioners and ex-prisoners, the method emphasizes soft skills, such as empathy and building positive coping strategies. An important aspect of what Safe Streets & Second Chances is doing, Koufos said, is bridging gaps in the disconnected reentry system.

The Five Key Model for Reentry is being tested in several states, including Pennsylvania. Koufos explained that in the program, when prisoners are released, they’re immediately connected with Goodwill of Southwestern Pennsylvania. There, individuals can obtain workforce development and other services. Safe Streets & Second Chances also plans to work with local law schools to help address returning citizens’ old fines and fees, which would help get folks back on track and free up law enforcement officers so they can focus on more pressing matters.

Koufos has already seen this type of connected model work in New Jersey, where he led the New Jersey Reentry Corporation for three years. While there, he said, the organization restored 400 drivers licenses and built the largest legal program in the country.

“It’s really interesting what you can do in a hub-and-spoke model that makes streets safer and hopefully reduces recidivism,” Koufos said.

When a formerly incarcerated person is given the tools to successfully reintegrate into the community, he or she is less likely to reoffend. Reducing recidivism not only helps keep individuals out of prison, but it helps entire communities.

“You have to bring people back to zero if you want them to not reoffend,” Koufos said. “These folks are so far behind the eight ball that the people who pay the price are innocent people who are victimized by future crime.”

Listen to the full interview below: