This Texas prison program improves recidivism rates

Half of all people released from US prisons return within three years. It’s a sobering statistic, but it’s a statistic that can improve with the help, in part, of a program started right here in Texas.

The Prison Entrepreneurship Program, which operates in prisons outside of Dallas and Houston, is a highly interactive program taught largely by business leaders.

PEP includes a business plan curriculum combined with an intensive character assessment and development program, which helps “each individual identify and remove character traits and behaviors that stand in the way of an evolution positive”. transforming life.”

Over 500 businesses have been started by PEP graduates.

More importantly, PEP has an exceptionally low recurrence rate: 8.3% after three years.

Other results are equally impressive: 100% of PEP graduates are employed within 90 days of their release from prison, with an average of 20 days “from prison to salary”. In the general prison population, the unemployment rate is around 50% 12 months after release. On the other hand, nearly 100% of PEP graduates are still employed. The success of PEP has led other states to seek assistance in establishing similar programs.

What is behind this success? As Baylor’s Byron Johnson and other researchers at the Baylor Institute for the Study of Religion have shown, traditional criminal justice aims to curb antisocial behavior rather than inculcate prosocial behavior. It is aimed at the safety and security of society at large rather than the rehabilitation of the criminal. There’s no reason we can’t do both. Indeed, we may need to focus on rehabilitation and preparation for release from prison to ensure safety and curb anti-social behavior. Prison sentences often reinforce patterns of criminal behavior and thus contribute directly to recidivism.

As Johnson has demonstrated, the return on investment is high: no taxpayer dollars to fund future incarceration, increased child support payments, and — because PEP alumni are gainfully employed — no dependence on government assistance.

Among the many characteristics of the PEP, three stand out: proximity, global programming and empowerment.

PEP embodies the principle that Bryan Stevenson calls closeness. Stevenson is founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative whose work has been featured in the popular book and film just mercy. This is not a program designed by government agencies in DC and implemented by bureaucrats. It is designed to work closely with inmates, involving regular interaction. In this way, the program establishes and develops personal relationships. Its intensive case study model is able to adapt to the strengths and weaknesses of each participant. In fact, nearly 75% of staff were once incarcerated, including current CEO Bryan Kelley.

Interaction with inmates is also sustained and comprehensive. It extends beyond the period of incarceration, particularly into the period of vulnerability immediately following release. Beyond the brakes on employment and the lack of skills, there is the question of the type of community that the freed young person will integrate. Ex-prisoners generally rejoin the community they occupied before prison, which poses a high risk of recurrence of criminal behavior. PEP works early and often with family members of participants to prepare for reintegration. And because newly released people and their families face the challenges of food insecurity, PEP partners with the Baylor Collaborative on Hunger and Poverty.

PEP involves a high level of responsibility. He does not give gifts. Regular meetings inculcate habits of mutual respect and meeting expectations. As one former participant said, “I knew I wanted to change, but I wasn’t even sure what I wanted to be. Throughout this experience at PEP, I have been blown away by the people involved and the process of change. We’re asked to hold each other accountable and work on our character flaws, which made me stronger and more confident.

In an era of limited resources and growing concerns about violence and criminal behavior, PEP offers a high level of return on investment, even as it inspires hope and transforms the lives of individuals and families.

Thomas S. Hibbs is a professor of philosophy at Baylor University. He wrote this for The Dallas Morning News.

Ryan H. Bowman