How to Reduce Recidivism with Prison Entrepreneur Programs
September 20, 2016
Understanding the importance of why and how to reduce recidivism in this country is a charge led by people and organizations working tirelessly to help ex-offenders make a better life for themselves.
Recidivism, or the relapse into criminal behavior, is a core concept in criminal justice.
Inmates who leave prison and do not recidive almost always accomplish this with a supportive community behind them. Entrepreneur programs offer not only a way to earn an income, but a built-in community of support.
When measuring recidivism rates, researchers often struggle with many variables. Because of the wide range of reasons for recidivism, researchers take some of these variables into account when providing data:
- Timing (length between offenses)
- Type (the category of crime)
- Supervision (if the ex offender was on parole and/or supervised or not)
- Risk (if outside circumstances put the ex offender at-risk)
All of these factors play a role in the possibility of recidivism, however when faced with how to reduce recidivism, other important factors come into play.
Prison’s Role in Combating Recidivism
Understanding how to reduce recidivism goes hand in hand with understanding the role prisons play during the time in which an offender is serving a sentence.
For example, the National Institute of Justice explains a connection between recidivism and the security level assigned to an inmate:
“The theory is that differential placement may affect post-release crime rates but not necessarily as intended. Higher security prisons are more punitive and, therefore, should decrease recidivism among inmates who have equivalent propensities to commit crime. Research shows, however, that being exposed to inmates who have higher propensities to crime may increase criminal behavior or reinforce antisocial attitudes.”
Most importantly, prisons have an obligation to rehabilitate inmates in order to improve their lives and prevent them committing further crimes. Inmate education programs are offered in juvenile facilities, most American prisons as well as county jails and detention centers.
The educational programming varies by location, however nearly every inmate has an opportunity to benefit from continuing their education while incarcerated.
However, not all prisoners are required to, or have access to training and preparation they need to successfully re enter society upon their release.
Without effective education programs and job skills training, many inmates leave prison having only served their time, but without any measurable rehabilitation.
Ex-offenders who lack the skills necessary to find and maintain work are at a significant risk of recidivism. As it turns out, research shows that many ex-offenders thrive as entrepreneurs.
How To Reduce Recidivism Through Entrepreneurship
The same study previously noted in this article also theorizes that ultimately, former prisoners must “decide independently to transform themselves into ex-offenders.”
Specifically, motivation to leave a criminal lifestyle in the past must come from within. That passion and drive to better themselves parallels with traits often attributed with entrepreneurs.
Additionally, entrepreneurs are often risk takers with high levels of confidence who love a challenge. In many cases, these same traits can be ascribed to many criminals—they were simply being put to use in a negative way.
Inmates to Entrepreneurs is a mentorship program started by a Brian Hamilton, a successful business owner in North Carolina. The nonprofit organization provides free education to inmates about starting and running a business.
After his cousin committed suicide in jail, Hamilton wanted to focus his time on helping other inmates see the possibilities of entrepreneurship upon their release. He began providing day-long seminars to local prisons focused on educating inmates with six months or less left to serve.
As the program grew, Hamilton brought on a board including many ex-offenders that were running successful businesses to add a mentorship piece to Inmates to Entrepreneurs.
Like Hamilton’s program, the Prison Entrepreneurship Program (or PEP) shows proven results:
- 100% of PEP graduates are employed within 90 days of release from prison; average graduates average only 20 days.
- PEP graduates have an $11.50+/hour average starting wage (60% above minimum wage).
- More than 200 businesses have been launched by PEP graduates, including six that generate over $1MM in gross annual revenue.
- PEP graduates have an exceptionally low <7% three-year recidivism rate (compared to the national average of nearly 50%).
With reentry challenges like lack of housing, healthcare and support, having the ability to work is key. When it comes to how to reduce recidivism, gaining entrepreneur-type skills during and after release provides better outcomes for the former inmates, their families and the state alike.
Are you a former inmate (or a loved one of a former inmate), with a re-entry success story? Share it with us on Facebook.
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