The roots of FOCUS are in the interfaith work of Restoring the Soul Community partnerships, a task force begun in Boulder, in 2001, to motivate religious and spiritual organizations for social action and volunteering. From this movement came the desire to fill a gap in the social services in Boulder County: opportunities and services for inmates leaving the Boulder County Jail.
The result was the formation of FOCUS (Facilitating Offenders Seeking Uplifting Situations). The program was conceived of as a secular ex-offender reentry mentoring program which would work with Boulder County Jail inmates.
In October 2004, the program was introduced to Sheriff Joe Pelle. His response was that it filled a crucial gap in the services for prisoners. He signed a Memorandum of Understanding supporting the program. The first FOCUS mentor began work in April 2005. For the first two years only a small number of mentors were trained and in active matches as the program and the jail worked out challenges in protocols and procedures. By 2008 there were over a dozen mentors in the field and clients were graduating from the program.
In 2010, FOCUS was recognized by the Federal government as a successful program and received a two-year Justice Assistance Grant to support its work. FOCUS has also been supported by local governments and community foundations who recognize the impact FOCUS makes in individual lives and the financial impact it has on the County’s bottom line. The City of Boulder, The City of Longmont, Boulder County Commissioners, The Boulder Community Foundation and the Longmont Community Foundation all support FOCUS year in and year out because they know a dollar spent here, mentoring an offender, is more effective than many dollars spent hosing them in jail.
Over the years of 2010-2011 FOCUS felt that it was finally established enough to begin examining its results. A third-party evaluation was conducted by Northpointe, Inc. This study found that while Boulder County has a 60-65% recidivism rate, FOCUS has achieved a 17% recidivism with its participants. This study confirmed the basic premise of FOCUS’ mission: that ex-offenders can become successful citizens when given the proper support and care.
In 2013 FOCUS said good-bye to its founder and long-time Executive Director Tania Leontov. Her vision for a compassionate, non-violent outreach to Boulder County Jail inmates and a safer community with reduced recidivism continues to form the core of the FOCUS program. FOCUS’ Board, staff and volunteers will keep that vision in sight as they look to grow the program, make it more sustainable and improve on its already astonishing results.