This profile was prepared when Junior Smart was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2008.
The New Idea
Southwark Offenders Support (SOS) is an individualized, holistic mentoring program run by ex-offenders that works with prisoners at a high risk of re-offending both before and after their release. SOS takes into account the many influences ex-offenders are exposed to on leaving jail, including family, peers, gangs and the local community. The model makes sure these needs are addressed in an integrative way prior to the offender’s release, in contrast with other programs of limited scope that are implemented after. Junior is changing communities through his reintegration program, helping ex-offenders take on a positive role in society as role models rather than gang members. Junior works with clients to help them tackle the stigma of being an ex-offender and gives them opportunities to make positive contributions to the community. By helping them integrate, he is further breaking down the stereotypes of ex-offenders while also reducing their likelihood of re-offending. Junior’s model is different from those offered elsewhere because he understands the system from the point of view of a service user. Since SOS is ex-offender led and uses ex-offenders as staff and volunteers, trained and committed mentors are in the position to build unique relationships with clients and have a lasting impact on their lives, fulfilling a role that existing institutions cannot. The SOS mentor integrates services, taking a holistic approach to a newly released person’s needs, rather than expecting an individual to struggle, seek out care, and then access what they need. This mentoring system ensures that the service provided is customized and personalized to an individual’s challenges. SOS challenges the entire existing model for provision of services to those in and leaving prison. Among the massive social and financial benefits of Junior’s program is the reduction in rates of re-offending to only 10 percent. By reducing this trend, Junior is stopping the cycle which keeps communities trapped by crime.