This profile was prepared when Joseph Williams was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2006.
The New Idea
When released from prison, offenders serious about changing their behavior often feel a profound and chronic sense of disassociation and loneliness. A typical offender may come from an abusive family, be uneducated, use drugs, and belong to peer groups that are also criminally inclined. Joe’s Transition of Prisoners (TOP) helps former prisoners become productive citizens. TOP fosters human connections and forms positive social networks for each person in transition from prison through mentorship, training, and social institutions such as churches. Individuals become part of a community dedicated to their successful reintegration and this influence reinforces positive social values that provide the critical material support (training, education, and basic needs) that enables healing. TOP functionally replaces anti-social support systems in the life of an offender by providing a sense of belonging that is critical to engaged citizenship. TOP’s track record shows that when former offenders feel supported and part of a community, they are 10 times less likely to revert to criminal behavior.