While the Prison Entrepreneurship Program—in this report from the New York Times—is too selective in its participants to qualify as a reentry program that could be scaled up to serve as a national model serving very many of the 700,000 prisoners released each year, it is one that could (especially after a rigorous evaluation) be modeled as a leadership development program for business start-ups that, in addition to the benefit for the former criminals now business owners, could also become a source of providing jobs to other reentering prisoners.
“This year, nearly 700,000 people will be released from state or federal prisons. They will join the worst economy in decades, many of them with limited education and little or no legitimate employment experience. And a criminal record will make it that much harder to find a job.
“Yet newly released prisoners need to work, not just to support themselves or their families, but also because having a job correlates with staying out of trouble. One study, in December 2006, found that 89 percent of people who violate the terms of their parole or probation were unemployed.
“In the past few years, several programs have been introduced to teach prisoners, who may have problems finding traditional employment after their release, how to work for themselves.
“We try to help these guys realize that the skills they already possess from illegal ventures have real value in the business world,” explains Catherine Rohr, founder and chief executive of the Prison Entrepreneurship Program, based in Houston. “Major drug dealers are already proven entrepreneurs.”
“The program, usually called P.E.P., works with men incarcerated in Texas and spends about $15,000 on each graduate. Last year, it raised $2.5 million from private sources. Ms. Rohr, a graduate of the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley, started P.E.P. in May 2004, when she was 27. She said she left a $200,000-a-year job in private equity when her Christian faith led her to embark on a life of service…
“Since the program’s inception, 441 men, roughly a quarter of whom had been incarcerated for violent crimes, have graduated. Just over 8 percent have returned to prison...”