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Program to keep ex-cons out of prison cuts ribbon on new headquarters

By: Brian Flinchpaugh


A ribbon-cutting marks the opening of Concordance Academy

An April 25 ribbon-cutting on its new headquarters building represents several milestones for a St. Louis regional initiative to prevent ex-cons from returning to prison, including a step toward what organizers hope will become a national effort in a few years.

The effort by Concordance Academy of Leadership, a St. Louis-based nonprofit, drew hopeful comments from local government officials and business representatives.

St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson, St. Charles County Executive Steve Ehlmann and St. Louis County Director of Community Empowerment Ethel Byndom [standing in for St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger] participated. The three local governments have agreed to provide a combined $2 million to support programming over the next three years.

The academy’s 31,000-square-foot facility in a Maryland Heights industrial park is expected to be the activity hub for 250 parolees who are expected to be enrolled in the program through 2019, with further expansions planned.

The facility will provide a one-stop shop for therapy sessions, career readiness training and educational classes, assistance with housing and other issues. They will work with counselors and community support specialists, participate in volunteer activities and work with job placement.

Danny Ludeman, president and chief executive officer of Concordance and former president of Wells Fargo Advisors, has been the driving force behind the initiative, which began in 2015. He described the St. Louis area as “leading the nation in dramatically reducing incarceration rates.”

The academy’s efforts may allow individuals and families “an opportunity to really achieve what we all want – having a joyful and productive life with our loved ones and friends,” Ludeman told attendees at the ceremony inside the renovated facility at 1845 Borman Court.

The academy hopes to help end the cycle by which millions of children, who have at least one parent in prison, face a 70-percent chance of going to prison themselves, Ludeman said. Achieving this will have a huge effect on other issues include spurring a huge economic stimulus, lowering crime and increasing public safety. “Sixty to 65 percent of all crime committed in this region is committed by formerly incarcerated individuals,” Ludeman said.

Achieving those objectives will have a huge effect on other issues, including spurring a huge economic stimulus, lowering crime and increasing public safety. “Sixty to 65 percent of all crime committed in this region is committed by formerly incarcerated individuals,” Ludeman said.

The ceremony also marked the enrollment of 100 participants in the program. Concordance officials said past participants who completed the curriculum now have jobs, or job offers, paying a livable wage. Chris Sommers, co-owner of Pi Pizzeria, spoke of how well Concordance participants hired by his company had done.

Ludeman said the academy currently adds 42 persons every other month and hopes to reach 250 in the next three years, then scale up to 1,000 people annually by 2020 and expand to Kansas City and four other states.

“In 2027, we plan to have offices in every state across the country,” Ludeman said.

He said the academy hopes to reduce a “horrific statistic” that 77 percent of prisoners released return to prison in a five-year period. “That number has not budged one iota in 30 years,” he said.

Why it has not moved is two-fold, Ludeman said. First, those imprisoned often are affected greatly by trauma at an early age and struggle with not one but many issues, including poor housing and education, mental health issues, the lifelong stigma of a felony conviction and the impact of prison. Second, he said, incarceration is not a cause that people choose to give money to publicly or privately. “They [donors] have chosen to ignore that the problem exists,” Ludeman said. A limited number of nonprofits in the field have concentrated on one or two areas of need, such as unemployment or substance use disorders, but unfortunately do not address the many individual needs that this population has,

A limited number of nonprofits in the field have concentrated on one or two areas of need, such as unemployment or substance use disorders but, unfortunately, do not address the many individual needs that this population has, Ludeman said.

Due to the generosity of individuals, organizations and local governments, Ludeman said the academy is the “first holistic, integrated, evidence-driven service provider dedicated solely to incarcerated individuals on the planet.” The academy will begin working with inmates at three prisons six months before their release and for 12 months after their release, then have an “alumni office” that will provide help with career planning and other issues for several more years.

“We believe the Concordance re-entry model that we’ve created will reduce reincarnation rates by 33 percent for the first three years and then 50 percent thereafter,” Ludeman said.

In 2016, St. Charles County agreed to appropriate $100,000 for three years to provide services such as education, substance abuse treatment, mental health services, employment and job training to aid at least six ex-convicts per year. Ehlmann applauded Ludeman and his governing board and joked, “When do you plan to go international?”

“This is not just about individuals coming out; this is about families,” Ehlmann said. “So many of our problems, whether it’s education or crime, whatever it is, I think is directly related to the breakdown of the family.”

Ehlmann noted the mention that children are seven times more likely to go to prison if one or both parents are incarcerated. “We have to do everything we can to reunite families, to get children the support of both parents and to the extent we’re able to do that here, I applaud it and I’m committed to helping in any way we can.”

Krewson noted that the 77-percent incarceration rate within five years shows the need to make this a successful measure. She said the challenges of reintegrating parolees is not limited to the city of St. Louis. “Wherever you live, that is challenge for all of us. “It’s a regional and national problem that does demand regional solutions,” Krewson said.

“It’s a glorious morning in more ways than one,” Byndom said, noting that Stenger is proud to join this endeavor.

“Our $900,000 in funding reflects the Stenger administration’s desire to help all county residents, including those who have served time in prison, in order for them to reach their full potential,” she said.

Byndom said Missouri releases 20,000 prisoners a year; one in five of these men and women return to the St. Louis area. “Without support, the outlook for parolees has traditionally been very bleak. They struggle with extraordinary rates of substance abuse, as said before, mental illness and homelessness and 70 percent do not find full-time work,” she said.

Byndom said Concordance provides a program that she had not heard of in all her years of community involvement and she was looking forward to its success in the coming year.

 

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