This profile was prepared when Marek Lagodzinski was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2008.
The New Idea
In Poland, as in many other countries, despite sporadic attempts to equip prisoners with skills relevant to their post-prison life, most leave prison ill equipped to lead normal lives, and many end up turning back to crime. Marek has designed a series of interventions to help prisoners successfully reintegrate into society following incarceration. His work is distinctive in its focus on the psychological and family needs of prisoners, and in its involvement of volunteer ex-prisoners. Current efforts to rehabilitate and reintegrate prisoners into society—whether led by the state or civil society—begin too late and fall well short of their ultimate aim: To prevent former prisoners from committing new crimes and ending up back in jail. Such efforts are almost exclusively service-oriented, providing ex-inmates with a bed to sleep in or a hot meal. Marek and his Slawek Foundation begin rehabilitation work with prisoners at the beginning of their sentence and continue to offer services for them and their families well after they are released. The foundation provides job skills and training for prisoners—including through a prisoner-run radio station—and also works to improve their psychological frame of mind and sense of self-worth through ex-prisoner testimonials, increased contact with family and the outside world, and one-on-one counseling and mediation. Prisoners participating in his programs gain a sense of hope that they can walk a new path and function in society—as fathers, as employees, and even managers, or as volunteers. Participants also tend to serve shorter sentences, and are less likely to return to prison. Already working in seventy prisons across Poland, Marek seeks to package his interventions to help other prisons across Poland and into Lithuania and Ukraine develop new standards of rehabilitation and reintegration. His work has been sanctioned by the Polish Prison Authority and more recently by the EU.