From our friends at the American Enterprise Institute, a recent opinion on the importance of prison education programs mentions PEP.
From the New York Times, June 3, 2016
The business plan competition event is the capstone of each and every class inside the Cleveland and Estes facilities. All of the participants work diligently towards becoming one of the final four men who will have the enviable and daunting task of pitching the business plan they have created to a room full of C-suite executives and their peers. And while every graduate of PEP is victorious, only one will emerge the winner of the business plan competition. Read the rest of this entry »
A report has just been published this month by the Centre for Entrepreneurs in the UK that mentions PEP in Texas as well as Leonhard, the program in Germany that PEP inspired.
Please watch this great video produced by the American Enterprise Institute about PEP.
Re-Entry Week–Rehabilitate Prisoners
April 29, 2016
Rehabilitate Former Prisoners with Jobs
By Kevin Gay & Bert Smith
There is a pervasive misunderstanding that individuals who commit crimes simply go away when they are locked up. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Nationwide, even though more than 2 million citizens are incarcerated and in excess of 11 million will serve time in local jails, approximately 95 percent of inmates currently serving time in state prisons will be released one day. And the rate of release is more than 600,000 people per year.
We’ve all heard the stories, and we’re all familiar with the data revealing pervasively high recidivism rates, i.e., people being released from prison and shortly thereafter committing a new crime and ending up back behind bars. If the purposes of our criminal justice system are punishment and deterrence, public safety, and rehabilitation, clearly our system is failing us.
So the question with which we as a society must grapple is this: What sort of future for these released men and women best serves society at large?
Attorney General Loretta Lynch and the federal Department of Justice have designated the week of April 24 “National Re-entry Week” to help bring attention to the important work of helping ex-offenders re-enter society. As the leaders of two nonprofits on the front lines of this effort, we strongly believe that solutions exist, lives can be changed, and communities can be improved. Moreover, we truly can give these ex-offenders a second chance to lead productive lives.
Re-entry matters to all of us because successful re-entry makes us all safer and results in a more socially beneficial use of our tax dollars, and successful re-entry begins on the day an inmate enters prison.
Rehabilitation is never easy, but it is possible. One of the most important crime-fighting tools is employment. Operation New Hope’s Ready4Work program in Florida helps recently released clients transition back into the community and become productive and responsible citizens. Through a four-to-six week course, we address drug abuse issues, offer mentorship and guidance, teach character development and other life skills, provide job training and assist with job placement. Because of the rigorous nature of our programs, we have been able to successfully transition more than 3,600 ex-offenders back into their communities and workforce. Just as important, our strategic partnerships with local law enforcement, businesses, and the faith and community agencies have thrived. They see safer streets and find talented, dedicated, and reliable employees. When we find our clients jobs, we are helping to make our community safer and strengthening our local economy.
In Texas, the Prison Entrepreneurship Program’s approach to re-entry begins behind bars and supports inmates who want to reboot their lives. Our in-prison education teaches leadership, character development, and business skills, with college-level courses supplemented by graduate school case studies. Inmates develop a business plan and present it to real-world executives. They develop the skills they will need upon release to find a job or start a business and live a good life. When they are released, we provide comprehensive re-entry services in a structured environment of accountability and encouragement. We have served over 1,200 inmates in their transition and are proud to say that 100 percent of PEP graduates are employed within 90 days of release (and more than 180 graduates have started over 200 businesses). After one year, 90 percent are still employed, and our recidivism rate is just 7 percent.
Whether or not they have a program to help support their re-entry, all ex-offenders today face numerous barriers to success. While some make sense, given the crimes committed, many of these restrictions prevent ex-offenders from qualifying for decent jobs and housing. In Florida, there are 1,166 legal and regulatory sanctions and restrictions a person faces in addition to the sentences imposed by the courts. In Texas, that number is 1,586. Having allowed these restrictions to accumulate and persist, we as a society should not be surprised that as many as half of released parolees become homeless and choose to return to a life of crime.
We both have seen the transformative power of education, character development, faith, and employment through our work. We have seen lives literally saved. When you watch and assist an individual break a cycle of self-destruction and become a confident, responsible, happy, and productive member of society, you cannot help but be inspired.
Re-entry is about keeping all of us safe; it is about finding jobs, teaching skills, restoring hope, and saving lives.
We could not do this work alone. PEP and Operation New Hope rely on partnerships with law enforcement, prisons, and especially the business community. So this Re-entry Week, we encourage you to celebrate by engaging the businesses in your community. Businesses need motivated, talented workers; ex-offenders need a way to turn their lives around. The best crime prevention is a good job. Let’s get to work.
Kevin Gay is CEO and founder of Operation New Hope, and Bert Smith is the CEO of the Prison Entrepreneurship Program.
(CNN) Every year, about 600,000 men and women (the equivalent of the city of Baltimore) return to communities across the country without anyone much noticing. Astonishingly, 1 out of 30 American adults have made this journey home over the last few decades.
Sebastian Robertson of WFAA in Dallas came to the Estes Unit on Friday morning, March 4th, and captured the story of one of the business plan finalists.
The PEP Softball Team is sporting brand new compression sleeves with the name of the team’s sponsor on them—The Clutter King. Justin M. is the proud founder and owner of this business, and is an outside graduate of PEP from 2013.
Justin has always been a hard worker, and upon release from prison in 2012 after serving 4 years for a DWI charge, he was hired by his former employer in Houston. The first thing he did after getting out was to buy a bike at Academy Sports and Outdoors so that he could ride his bike from I-10 and Antoine to 290 and Pinemont to get to his shift. He started out on the assembly line and had several promotions over 8 months, and moved from the shop to the front office. He now is in a management role there and oversees all the raw materials that the business buys and uses in its manufacturing process.
At the same time, he saved enough to get off the bike and in a car, and was able to buy it without incurring a high rate of interest on a loan. In February 2013, he launched Clutter King in his father-in-law’s garage, and he focuses his work on residential reorganizing. He also joined the National Association of Professional Organizers (www.napohouston.org) and is now a member of their board and assists them with Communication and Technology. Clutter King was one of the PEP graduate businesses that was a finalist for 2014’s Fast Pitch Day, and he is now growing to the point where he will hire additional employees and or subcontractors to assist him with the business.
Justin’s wife was pregnant when he was incarcerated, and they now have another child, along with his stepdaughter. They have just bought a home in Hockley, and Justin explains that their life is all about stretching and growing, stretching and growing. His wife is the Volunteer Coordinator at Goodwill Industries.
His greatest takeaway from PEP is to Keep Going! He feels that PEP and its brotherhood is a great catalyst for change and an active moving force.
Can free enterprise redeem the incarcerated?
Gerard Robinson, Elizabeth English, Sean Kennedy
February 23, 2016 4:55 pm | AEIdeas
An hour north of Houston, over 70 suit-clad volunteers shuffle into a place most fear to enter: prison. Greeted by CEO Bert Smith and his staff, these “executive volunteers” – drawn from Houston’s elite business community – are there to counsel prisoners in entrepreneurship.
Without a dollar of government funds, the Texas-based Prison Entrepreneurship Program (PEP) trains prisoners to start their own businesses upon their return to society. It not only offers education and community within the prison’s walls but also gives participants the tools to succeed in life after prison through re-entry, employment, and social opportunities.
According to Smith, PEP “trains up men to gain a complete understanding of what it takes to run an honest business and build social capital.” That innovative approach, different from your average prison-based program, is already reaping rewards. PEP graduates are dramatically better off than their non-PEP counterparts, being significantly less likely to re-offend and more likely to hold down steady, well-paying work, according to a Baylor University study.
PEP emphasizes that it is “a hand-up, not a hand-out.” Participants are selected from across Texas’s prison system through recruitment and screening. After being selected, they are transferred to one of two prisons where PEP operates. Program participants start a 9-month program that includes a Leadership Academy — a character building course — and a crash course in business and entrepreneurship that culminates in a competition to determine which would-be entrepreneurs’ business ideas hold the most promise. PEP even convenes “Venture Capital Panels”— like in the TV showShark Tank – where executives volunteer to judge the budding entrepreneurs, listen to their elevator pitches, and offer feedback. Upon completing the program, successful participants graduate and receive a “Certificate in Entrepreneurship” from Baylor University.
Astoundingly, the program places 100% of its graduates in work within 90 days of release. Many achieve it much sooner. After 12 years of operation, the program has built up a network of 750 Texas employers that have placed a PEP graduate in gainful employment. The average starting wages for PEP graduates are 60% higher than minimum wage. After 6 months on the job, graduates earn an average of almost $16 an hour.
Though PEP is underpinned by Judeo-Christian values, participants are drawn from all races and creeds. Only men may apply, and above all other qualities PEP looks for in the competitive application process, applicants must demonstrate a commitment to changing their lives for the better.
That shared commitment to building a new life fosters palpable camaraderie among the inmates. PEP participants – most of whom have been wards of the state before – call each other “brother” and consider volunteers and staff “family.” PEP’s “10 Driving Values” (including “excellence,” “accountability,” and “fresh start outlook”) are hung around the room PEP occupies in the prison and shape every activity and interaction. Participants are asked to speak in front of volunteers and other participants regularly. They are also given business cards that they distribute to volunteers with the hope of connecting with them upon their return to society.
Upon release, PEP staff meet the participants at the prison gates and start the re-entry process – acquiring civilian identification, medical insurance, food assistance, and basic necessities like toiletries and clothes for a job interview. PEP also runs transition housing for graduates and assists with job placement and parole compliance.
To date, PEP graduates have started 211 businesses with six of those exceeding $1 million in annual revenue. In addition, the vast majority of graduates stay on the straight and narrow. The latest available data suggests that less than 7% of graduates have been re-arrested in the three years since release— an astonishing figure given national recidivism rates exceed 50% in most jurisdictions.
PEP accomplishes all of this on a shoe string budget of $2.4 million in 2016 with mostly volunteer labor. Ninety percent of its paid staff are PEP graduates themselves.
In many ways, PEP embodies the American Enterprise Institute’s mission of “increasing individual opportunity and strengthening free enterprise.” Deep in the heart of Texas, this little platoon of society is serving its fellow man by promoting self-sufficiency, free enterprise, and hope among those society often deems unredeemable.
By believing in participants and empowering them with tools for success, PEP is helping to reduce America’s high recidivism rates – a phenomenon AEI scholars including Robert Doar, Maura Corrigan, and Sally Satel have highlighted in the past. PEP may offer a path out of the vicious prison cycle toward a freer, safer, and more prosperous society for all, beginning with ex-offenders.
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