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We are pleased to share with you this monograph, aimed to stimulate interest, ignite conversation and spur momentum for a national initiative promoting entrepreneurship as a reentry strategy. The rising number of individuals returning to our communities from prison and jail represents one of the deﬁning issues of our time.
Individuals reentering society face myriad challenges, not the least of which is securing viable employment; in addition, each individual has a unique set of experiences, needs and resources. This project stems from the understanding that to effectively address the unique characteristics of and challenges facing people reentering society, the best and brightest minds from a diverse array of ﬁelds must collaborate to develop a spectrum of approaches and solutions.
To this end, the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation granted support to the Prisoner Reentry Institute at John Jay College of Criminal Justice to convene a series of Conversations between experts in the ﬁelds of entrepreneurship, criminal justice and workforce development, including academics, practitioners, funders, policymakers and formerly incarcerated entrepreneurs. During these Conversations – held in New York, NY and San Diego, CA in Fall 2006 – participants identiﬁed challenges and opportunities, grappled with complex questions regarding program design and sustainability and produced innovative ideas for a national initiative promoting self-employment among formerly incarcerated individuals. The discussions were rich and productive, and the ideas they generated serve as the conceptual framework for this monograph.
The monograph is designed to develop a vocabulary with which criminal justice and micro enterprise representatives can effectively communicate, to address skepticism about the viability of entrepreneurship for this population and to equip both ﬁelds with the knowledge and tools to develop and sustain projects without reinventing the wheel. It begins with a background containing key information, terminology and statistics on the criminal justice system, entrepreneurship and micro enterprise development. It then introduces ﬁve opportunities for facilitating successful reentry with entrepreneurship. These opportunities are infused with relevant research, case studies and examples, as well as proﬁles of thriving businesses founded by formerly incarcerated entrepreneurs. Finally, it provides a set of practical tools for the development of pilot projects and initiatives:
resources for leveraging funding streams; contact points for state and local agencies that must be at the table to launch and sustain an effective project; and ideas for innovative program design provided through proﬁles of programs currently customizing business development services for people with criminal records.
Promoting self-employment among people coming home from prison will be challenging; it will require creativity, perseverance and the ability of professionals across ﬁelds to break down cultural barriers to build productive relationships. However, the inspiring stories and examples shared in this monograph demonstrate the potential that an initiative represents for individuals returning home from prison, their families and our communities. We hope the information, strategies and tools contained within will serve as a catalyst for the conversations that must occur to truly take advantage of this potential.
The phrase “mass incarceration” is now widely used to describe the current state of criminal justice in the United States. Over the past generation, this country’s rate of incarceration has more than quadrupled, rising every year since 1972, now exceeding 735 per 100,000 people (Harrison and Beck 2006). This growth has earned the U.S. the dubious distinction of incarcerating more people per capita than any other country in the world (Walmsley 2005).
Not surprisingly, the number of people reentering the community from prison has soared. Nearly everyone who goes to prison or jail eventually comes home. A high concentration of formerly incarcerated persons (FIPs) return to impoverished communities ill-equipped to provide the resources and services they and their families may need to smoothly transition into society. Among FIPs’ most important short- and long-term needs is securing a job. But legal and practical barriers often prevent FIPs from accessing employment to earn a living wage and move out of or avoid poverty.
As the nation struggles to address the social and economic consequences of mass incarceration, entrepreneurship has emerged as a viable alternative to traditional employment opportunities for disadvantaged and marginalized individuals all over the world. The micro enterprise development ﬁeld, in particular, has demonstrated success assisting the hard-to-employ (e.g. welfare recipients, people with disabilities, immigrants and refugees) transcend poverty through business start-up and development. As more and more people return from prison, many lacking educational and vocational skills necessary to compete in today’s labor market, entrepreneurship may represent a means of capitalizing on an underutilized pool of human resources.
While self-employment may not be a viable option for many individuals leaving prison, exposure to entrepreneurship training can play an important role in fostering successful reentry. A small percentage may have the resources and mindset to use entrepreneurship as the key to their successful reintegration, either as their sole form of employment, or in addition to a traditional job. Others will open a business once they have achieved reentry stability through other forms of employment. For many, because entrepreneurial thinking is infused with the philosophy of empowerment, exposure to entrepreneurial training will reshape their perspective on their role in society. These individuals may never become entrepreneurs themselves, but will use their entrepreneurship training to improve their performance as employees and to proactively engage with their families and communities.
Consequently, even if only a tiny fraction of the vast number of people returning home from prison pursued self employment,
it could make a significant impact. If between one and seven percent of people leaving state or federal prison next year started their own businesses (i.e., the percentage of welfare-to-work participants who start businesses in addition to or instead of securing traditional employment), 6,500 to 45,000 new businesses would be created in the United States.
Nationwide, many FIPs currently operate thriving businesses, and many micro enterprise professionals work with currently and formerly incarcerated individuals to develop and grow their businesses. At the same time,representatives from the field of criminal justice are hungry for fresh approaches to prisoner reentry, and the nation’s attention is focused on questioning the last several decades of mass incarceration and effectively addressing the challenges posed by prisoners returning home. Now is an opportune moment to take advantage of several opportunities that might emerge from collaboration between the fields of entrepreneurship and reentry:
• Cultivate: Foster individual and community empowerment through self-employment.
• Collaborate: Build relationships among and leverage the expertise, resources and structure of
micro enterprise programs, reentry programs, correctional agencies and other partners.
• Educate: Create synergy between the micro enterprise and criminal justice fields by debunking myths and
developing a common vocabulary.
• Innovate: Think creatively about modifying existing services and structures to address reentry challenges
and support a spectrum of successful outcomes.
• Initiate, Evaluate, Disseminate and Advocate: Institutionalize an infrastructure to support and sustain a
national initiative on entrepreneurship and reentry over an extended period of time.
The information, case studies and stories contained in this monograph aim to inspire professionals across entrepreneurship, workforce development and criminal justice fields to recognize and embrace entrepreneurship and self-employment as appropriate and valuable tools for reintegration. Given the size of the population returning home from prison and jail, we cannot afford to ignore their potential as resources for community and economic development; nor can we overlook the opportunity that entrepreneurship represents as a path to financial stability and engaged citizenship.
Entrepreneurship is broadly applied to describe a variety of undertakings,ranging from innovative, high-growth ventures to much simpler forms of self-employment. Some definitions place strong emphasis on innovation,others on wealth creation. However, the term is also used to simply describe a method of generating income in lieu of or in addition to traditional employment.
Research shows that adversity plays a major role in spurring enterprise building. Thus, the poor, the under-educated, minorities and immigrants are often at the forefront of entrepreneurial activity around the world. Studies of the informal (i.e., licit but unregulated) economy found that small enterprises have a “strong and natural presence,” pointing to higher entrepreneurial
tendencies among those facing barriers to the traditional labor market (Thetford and Edgcomb 2004).
Individual motivations for pursuing entrepreneurial ventures are as varied as the life circumstances of those who choose this career path. The Association for Enterprise Opportunity (AEO) states that at the initial stage, self-employment can provide additional income to supplement a low paying job. For those who lack the educational or language skills required for a professional position, starting a business is preferable to minimum wage employment. Self-employment further offers the opportunity to use
talents and find fulfillment in ways rarely possible in traditional employment.
Meanwhile, many women choose self-employment for the flexibility they need to balance family and work responsibilities. People with disabilities are attracted by the opportunity to work from home. For most individuals,the prospect of being their own manager is the most appealing aspect of entrepreneurship.
There appears to be some consensus that successful entrepreneurs share certain personality traits, including readiness to take risks, non-conformity, need for autonomy and creativity. The barriers most frequently cited to successful entrepreneurship include lack of assets and capital, social networks, business skills and prior self-employment experience (AEO 2005).
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