Lauren Diaz Arias

Ashoka Fellow
Costa Rica,
Fellow Since 2014
Fundacion Nueva Oportunidad


This profile was prepared when Lauren Diaz Arias was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2014.
The New Idea
Lauren Diaz aims to revise the role of prisons in Costa Rica and how they work in the rehabilitation of prisoners, and to engage society outside prisons in a positive way in order to ensure ex-convicts´ successful reinsertion to society and to prevent recidivism. Through her organization, Nueva Oportunidad (New Opportunity), Lauren works across multiple levels in order to reform how prisons and society perceive prisoners, and what opportunities are offered to them.

Lauren´s approach is multi – tiered: First, Lauren works with prison staff, from directors to officers and trainers, to help them understand their role in the lives of inmates and increase the impact of the sentence. Second, Lauren has developed an integral program that offers prisoners with menial crimes and who are about to finish their sentence the opportunity to develop a business idea that will ensure a self-employment option upon their release, and at the same time, brings psychological and personal support. As a third step, Nueva Oportunidad works with society to stop the exclusion that ex-convicts face upon their release (that is a major contributor to recidivism), by raising awareness about the failures of the penal system, the contexts and stories of prisoners, and by offering spaces of collaboration. Lastly, Lauren works to change public policy and to ensure that the government understands and implements the social and economic incentives that make up an integral rehabilitation program.

Nueva Oportunidad´s innovation lies in the roles of these diverse actors in the solution and in actively involving each of them. Lauren is helping prisoners become entrepreneurs, and creating an adequate ecosystem to prevent them from going back to crime, but also to prevent poverty from driving people into crime and serving unjustified sentences. She proposes a change in the paradigm of serving a sentence, aiming for successful rehabilitation of prisoners facilitated by the prisons -- a purpose stated in article 51 of the penal code of Costa Rica: “The punishment of prison and measures of security will be fulfilled in the place and in a form that the law determines, ensuring the sentence is a rehabilitating experience”.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

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