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5 Years In, Concordance’s Prisoner-Reentry Model Gets Big Expansion Push

Concordance offers classes, therapy and coaching for people getting out of prison.
Concordance offers classes, therapy and coaching for people getting out of prison.

In 2015, Danny Ludeman launched a nonprofit organization with huge dreams and $9 million in funding. The former CEO of Wells Fargo Advisors wanted to transform prison reentry programs, creating a scalable model to help people leaving prison find true rehabilitation: good jobs, happy families and no return to incarceration.

The odds were grim. Studies show that 77% of people released from prison are sent back within five years. A full 43% go back in the first year. Ludeman’s Concordance Academy of Leadership aimed to break that cycle — and hoped that, after showing success in St. Louis, it could expand across the country.

Now renamed simply Concordance, Ludeman’s organization has been graduating classes of people leaving prison for five years. It’s served 900 people, shepherding them through an 18-month program that includes therapy, treatment for addiction and job support and training. It aims for a major expansion in the coming years; it’s now raising money for a $50 million campaign to expand across 11 additional cities and double the number of participants by 2025.

Danny Ludeman on the Concordance model
Listen to the Concordance founder discuss the organization's work on St. Louis on the Air

Concordance has yet to release any detailed study of the recidivism rate of its participants. Ludeman said on Thursday’s St. Louis on the Air that the nonprofit has dramatically reduced reincarceration, with only 44% of its participants finding their way back into the criminal justice system.

Questioned about evaluations or reports to support those claims, Ludeman said the organization is working closely with the independent research institute NORC at the University of Chicago. It’s been working on a randomized study looking at 2,000 individuals who were released from prison in the St. Louis community compared to participants in six of Concordance’s classes over a 12-month period, Ludeman said.

“He just finalized the report, I think it was on Monday this week,” Ludeman said. “So it's available for public consumption.”

Ludeman promised to share it after the show. After the show, his team said instead it would be a week before the report is available.

Ludeman acknowledged that the NORC study is the first, and only, independent study to look at Concordance graduates. (A previous partnership in which Washington University was set to evaluate Concordance’s results ended after less than two years.) The study is a big deal for an organization that has long touted its expansion plans.

“We wanted to have five years of hard data before we expanded anywhere,” Ludeman said. He dismissed previous media reports suggesting the organization was set to expand into Kansas City as inaccurate, saying, “we never had plans to go into Kansas City or Illinois prior to this.” (Ludeman later clarified that the organization is working with people leaving Illinois prisons and resettling in the St. Louis area.) “Now, we're in a position … where we will expand to 11 cities over a five- to six-year period. And that's always been our plan. And then after that the plan is to long term be in every state in America.”

Concordance participants are chosen as representative of the area’s prison population, rather than being selected as particularly good candidates for success.

“I would put our therapists and case managers and career educators against anybody,” he said. “And so we can motivate them and increase their willingness, because at the beginning of a class, I would say most are not really all that excited about being at Concordance. They just have very little going on in prison. So they're willing to give it a chance.”

Even so, Ludeman estimated that one-third of participants drop out before graduation.

And he acknowledged that the cost — which he estimated at $20,000 per graduate — isn’t cheap. “Virtually every business in the St. Louis region is an investor in Concordance because what we do is expensive,” he said.

Even so, the organization is planning to ramp up from the 250 people served annually to 500, he said. “And then our goal is to raise it to 1,000 per year, which would be roughly 40 to 50% of all people releasing into the St. Louis region.”

He believes the work is too valuable to slow down.

“I used to think that this was a problem that just affected Black and Hispanic and Latino communities, and it does,” he said. “As I've said, they’ve been devastated by racial bias, whether conscious or unconscious. But it's crystal clear now to me that this is a problem that affects everyone. Fifty-five to 60% of all crime in this country is committed by formerly incarcerated individuals. So if you can help heal this population, there's probably nothing better you can do to reduce crime in a region.

“The largest homeless population in this country are formerly incarcerated individuals. The largest number of overdoses in this country occur with formerly incarcerated individuals. So it’s a problem that affects every single St. Louisan and every single Missourian.”

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. Paola Rodriguez is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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Sarah Fenske served as host of St. Louis on the Air from July 2019 until June 2022. Before that, she spent twenty years in newspapers, working as a reporter, columnist and editor in Cleveland, Houston, Phoenix, Los Angeles and St. Louis.
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