Former policeman helps inmates transition back into society

Goal is to prevent them from going back to prison

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - When the wheels of justice turn, police solve crimes, the legal system prosecutes and the department of corrections incarcerates and rehabilitates. Some say that has turn us into a country of mass incarceration.

"In the United States, we are 5 percent of the world's population," explained Ron Smith, executive director of Second Chance. "But we have nearly 25 percent of every inmate on planet earth incarcerated in this country."

Under the umbrella of the Metro Crime Commission, Smith works to insure justice on the other side – after an offender has paid his or her debt to society.

"We try to help people who are being released from prison, back into the community, get them assimilated back into this community, back into the workforce, and hopefully turn their lives around," Smith said.

But the odds are against offenders when they get out of prison. 

The national average for recidivism is 50 percent; in Missouri it's 52 percent. Those referred to Second Chance are at high risk with an 82 percent chance of ending up back behind bars.

With such a passion for helping convicted felons achieve success, you might be surprised by Smith's former career -- he spent 25 years with the Kansas City Police Department.

That's right.  For a quarter-century, Cmdr. Ron Smith put offenders behind bars with a much different outlook.

"My biased assessment was that they were poor, uneducated, morally weak and in the way -- lock them up and throw away the key," he said.

Smith explained it was his faith in God that changed his views. 

After he retired from the police force, he did some prison ministry work. He began to see a real need for intervention to reduce the obstacles that seemed to push people right back into old habits.

Enter Second Chance. 

The program evolved out of a 2008 bipartisan bill passed by Congress. The program offers offenders tools like employment training, mentoring, opportunities for self betterment and relationship building. They're the keys to beating the odds on the other side.

"They are human beings; they do deserve a chance at redemption," Smith said.

He admitted not everyone shares his passion. But given the right circumstances, he believes in second chances.

But even he knows the reality is some people can't change.

"Thank God we have prisons," Smith said. "There are people who belong there, who have done some absolutely terrible, dreadful things, and should never get out.  But that number is not as large as we like to think."

And Smith hopes the wheels of justice can give them their second chance.

For more information on Second Chance, visit www.secondchancekc.org.

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