Archive for the ‘Wise Stewardship’ Category

Can free enterprise redeem the incarcerated?

Gerard Robinson, Elizabeth English, Sean Kennedy
February 23, 2016 4:55 pm | AEIdeas

Cleveland, Texas.

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.

Learn more:

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.

This article was found online at:
http://www.aei.org/publication/can-free-enterprise-redeem-the-incarcerated/

 

PEP graduates after speaking at YES Prep

PEP graduates after speaking at YES Prep

Last week, several PEP graduates were invited to speak to the students of YES Prep in Houston. To the right is a photo of the graduates after the presentation and below are photos of the graduates in action!

The following comes from the school’s Web site:

Since we opened our doors in 1998, YES Prep has continuously redefined possible for students, families and the public education system at large. Our students are currently graduating from college at four times the rate of their peers. Today, with 13 schools in operation, serving 8,000 students throughout Houston, YES Prep is living proof that different outcomes are possible when students from low-income communities are given access to high-quality educational opportunities.

Our graduates shared their life stories and offered these young people practical advice on how to release their potential.

As we shared in this blog last week, our graduates also recently spoke at the Teach for America Summit in Houston. Many of our graduates have a deep understanding of the issues that Houston’s public school students confront on a daily basis. Some even attended public school in the Houston area, so they truly know what it means to grow up in these communities.

More importantly, having been to prison, they have seen what happens when these students succumb to the negative influences around them. Our graduates can frequently share stories of how they were first arrested as children, so their testimonies can make a tremendous impact on these young people.

However, this is not a “scared straight” program.

We do not seek to change young people’s minds through tragic stories about the negative impact of drugs and crime. They have heard these before: in fact, many of our graduates grew up in families where at least one parent was in jail or in prison. Fear of going to prison did not prevent them from pursuing crime.

Rather, we believe that introducing positive male role models into these students’ lives is critical for their long-term success.

Why do we believe this?

Nearly half of PEP’s recent graduates grew up without a father in their home. While this does not excuse their crimes, it helps us to understand what contributed to their negative choices.

When they enter these schools, our graduates are modeling what it means to be a truly successful man. By sharing how they are able to earn a decent living, take care of their families and even launch their own businesses, our graduates show these students genuine alternatives to lives of crime (which are unfortunately seen in far too positive a light within many of the communities where these children live).

This effort also makes a tremendous impact on our graduates’ themselves. As we shared towards the end of last week’s blog, allowing our graduates to assert a new identity as role models helps them to deepen their own commitment to living a transformed life.

At PEP, one of our main goals is to inspire our graduates to do more than simply “repay their debt to society.” We encourage them to become lifelong givers, and these men pictured below are tremendous examples of PEP’s driving values of love, servant leadership and wise stewardship.

If you would like to bring PEP graduates to speak to your community, please contact us today.

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2013 Grad Giving

PEP does not just transform inmates into entrepreneurs:
we convert felons into philanthropists!

Please join our graduates by making a donation at
http://pep.org/donate/