CLAYTON • Leaders from St. Charles County, St. Louis and St. Louis County are committing $2 million toward an effort to reduce the likelihood that ex-convicts will return to prison.
The funding, announced at a joint press conference Tuesday, would support the Concordance Academy of Leadership, a new program being developed by Washington University researchers and former Wells Fargo Advisors chief executive Danny Ludeman.
“The goal of the academy is to dramatically reduce the cycle of incarceration that has plagued our country and our region for decades,” Ludeman said, adding that 77 percent of people who get out of prison are re-arrested within three to five years.
His effort to cut the recidivism rate by one third has resonated with corporations, private donors and government officials in the region. In all, $12 million has been committed so far.
On Tuesday, St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger was on hand to designate $900,000 in federal funding to Concordance; St. Charles County Executive Steve Ehlmann promised $300,000; St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay committed to $750,000.
Stenger said Missouri releases 20,000 prisoners each year; one fifth of them come to the St. Louis area.
“I will tell you that we neglect these individuals — to their detriment and at our peril,” said Stenger, a former criminal defense attorney. “Without support, the outlook for parolees has traditionally been bleak.”
Concordance has designed an 18-month program that starts working with offenders six months before they are released from prison. Once they are out in the community, they’ll be integrated into a program of specialized services for each ex-offender, including employment that pays a living wage. Rather than being sent to various service providers, Concordance will provide its services under one roof.
A building to house the new facility is supposed to be purchased or leased by this summer.
Recruitment is underway for the first class of 20 offenders who will start the program in May at prisons in Vandalia, Bonne Terre and Pacific. Ludeman said the program would ramp up significantly and eventually be able to serve everyone on parole.
Ludeman joined forces with the Brown School of Social Work at Washington University to develop the program.
Carrie Pettus-Davis, an assistant professor in charge of the research arm of Concordance, told the Post-Dispatch last summer: “We are trying to substantially improve our knowledge and rigor around creating effective models with this population, similar to what we already do in the medical world but that we just don’t do in treatment and services for vulnerable and marginalized populations.”
She said the dual effort between community practice and research was inspired by the famed Poverty Action Lab at MIT, where effective interventions have been developed and shared on a large scale.
“The goal is not only to push practice forward, but to push science forward. We want to eliminate the lag time between,” she said. “We want everybody to learn from what we are learning.”