In spring 2013, Utah’s prison system reached a critical mass and began overflowing with female inmates, forcing the Board of Pardons & Parole to gran special releases. Holli Simmonds, Vida Betts, and Heidi Wilcock immediately began digging for proactive solutions and working with criminal justice partners. They established FOSI, Female Offender Success Initiative: an effort to reduce recidivism through programs and supervision strategies. This team sought to do more than avoid repeat crises. They asked underlying questions: What do women need to avoid going to prison in the first place? If they’re already incarcerated, what do they need to keep them from returning? How can we keep mothers, daughters and sisters in their homes, in the workplace, and with their families? This team sought to solve the issue the way: by focusing on people rather than brick and mortar.
FOSI was denied federal funding for this innovative effort (to fund ingredients like an assessment tool and further gender-responsive training). But the team didn’t back down. In fact, they stepped up the effort, growing to a team of 50 UDC staff, establishing gender-responsive training teams throughout the state, and touching all divisions of Corrections. The department continued funding the effort through internal savings. FOSI forges ahead as an innovative way to invest time and energy upfront, in order to limit the female prison population in the long-run. The team is now comprised of 70 members with one common goal: reduce female recidivism by 25% by 2017. This will save resources and give would-be prisoners a better shot at life where they belong: in our communities as productive members of society.