Starting new, starting fresh: Prison entrepreneurship as an option for better re-integration

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Societal re-integration is not a lost cause. Hope can be found through entrepreneurship

The repercussions of going to jail or prison extend beyond just serving time, as many who are released find difficulty reintegrating back into society. The concomitant high recidivism rate in most countries has been attributed to a number of factors, one being the lack of employment opportunities. In fact, those unable to gain employment were three to five times more likely to offend (Sonfield, 2008).

The inability to secure a job is normally the result of one of, and even a combination of, the following reasons: societal bias against ex-offenders and the lack of relevant employment skills.

However, this is not to say societal re-integration is a lost cause – far from it. There are plenty of individuals who, upon release, have reinvented themselves through their business.

Notable names include Frank Abagnale, who currently runs his fraud-prevention consultancy; Coss Marte, founder of ConBody and brings in 400 clients each week; and closer to home, we have Benny Se Teo who runs eighteen chefs, a restaurant, among other former convicts who have become successful entrepreneurs.

In fact, studies have shown a stronger correlation between offenders and entrepreneurs than the public and entrepreneurs. This is based on the Myers-Briggs personality test, which showed similarities on measures of entrepreneurial drive and innovativeness conducted in 2006 (Lockwood, F., et al. 2006). It is, therefore, no surprise that self-employment has been proposed as a tool to overcome the extenuating factors for re-offending (Social Exclusion Unit 2002).

Also Read: 6 challenges founders face when first starting up

It’s been argued that self- employment dilutes the stigma of their criminal records and thus reduces a major obstacle for them. These findings have not gone unnoticed with several entrepreneurship programmes currently being offered:

Texas Prison Entrepreneurship Program

Country: United States of America

Program: Selected individuals will be given guidance on running a business through various workshops on business planning and leadership development. Local business executives and successful alumni of the program will serve as mentors to assist these program participants to launch their business. The winner of the program wins $150,000 seed funding.

Graduates of the programme will be presented with “Certificate in Entrepreneurship” from Baylor University in Texas, as well as offered accommodation in PEP’s five transition homes.

Duration: Year-long

Results:

  • Recidivism rate of less than 7 per cent over three years (national average is 70 per cent)
  • A 70 to 80 per cent improvement compared to existing models
  • Outperformed nine other rehabilitation program in Texas

Inmates to Entrepreneurs

Country: United States of America

Program: No former program. Support is given through online resources, educational seminars, and Chapters to participate in engaging and exchanging ideas.

Duration: Flexible

Results: N/A

The Last Mile

Country: United States of America

Program: Entrepreneurship program and computer coding curriculum (teaches HTML, CSS, JavaScript and Python) launched in 2014. Pitch during Demo Day.

Duration: 6 months

Results: N/A

Also Read: How to conquer the 8 biggest challenges of running a small business

Leonhard

Country: Germany

Programme: Those selected will be taught the essentials of business planning through seminars. Participants are allowed to work with laptops but without internet access – research assistance will be conducted by volunteers from local colleges. Participant also has received personal coaching sessions and access to events with professionals from the political, business and scientific spheres.

Graduates of the program will be accredited as an ‘Innovation and Business Creation Specialist’ with a certificate from the Steinbeis Hochschule, which can be used for further education.

Duration: 20 weeks, twice a year

Results:

  • Recidivism rate of around 11% after 4 years (national average is 46 per cent)
  • 1/3 starts their own business; 3/5 go on to secure a job or further education

Enterprise Exchange

Country: United Kingdom

Program: Support is given in the form of workshops, one on one coaching, help in conducting market research due to accessibility issues, increasing the visibility of the participants through signposting and networking events conducted.

Duration: N/A

Results: Helped 42 offenders into self-employment and employment during an 18 month period

Startup Now

Country: United Kingdom

Program: Entrepreneurship programme for female offenders based on a 4-2-1 structure of sieving best candidates. The first cohort (4) participates in an initial workshop, of this half (2) will be chosen for the subsequent stage based on attitude, aptitude, motivation and business plan. Half of this group will be selected for the final round, of whom will be given funding and mentorship to start their business.

Duration: N/A

Results: Recidivism rate less than 1% among those who turned business owners (national  average is 46%

These programs have yielded very successful outcomes in terms of a number of offenders. As postulated by Paltzlet et al, 2014, the value of entrepreneurship programs extends beyond just an alternative but it boosts their self-esteem and social skills.

Also Read: 6 social enterprises that want to change the world

While entrepreneurship and self-employment have yielded numerous success stories, it is also worth noting it’s not the panacea to reducing the recidivism rate. I believe an entrepreneurship programme to complement the various upskilling programmes currently offered by prisons would be useful, as this provides the inmates with an alternative career path to reintegrate back into society.

Singapore’s CARE Network to ease former inmates into society

Perhaps, it is also worth considering the economic benefits of assisting in this endeavour. In Singapore, it costs close to S$28,000 (US$19,300) each year for each inmate behind bars. Considering the number of incarcerated last year was 12,394, this translates to almost half a billion dollars of taxpayers’ money each year – an amount that could be saved with a little empathy and faith.

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References:

  • Lockwood, F., et al. “An examination of the power of the dark side of entrepreneurship.” International Journal of Family Business 3 (2006): 1-20.
  • Social Exclusion Unit 2002
  • IT Figures, Channel News Asia
  • Matthew C. Sonfield, “Entrepreneurship and prisoner re-entry: the development of a concept,” Small Business Institute Research Review 35 (2008).
  • Holger Patzelt, Trenton a. Williams dean a. Shepherd, “Overcoming the Walls That Constrain Us: The Role of Entrepreneurship Education Programs in Prison” Academy of Management Learning & Education, 2014, Vol. 13, No. 4, 587–620.
  • Centre for Entrepreneurs

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