Saturday, September 29, 2012

Entrepreneurship Training for Ex Offenders--Starting Your Own Business

An obvious way to help ex-offenders become legitimate earners is to teach them how to start a business.  Many employers aren't crazy about hiring them, and starting a business is a risky thing, while lots of ex-offenders are O.K. with risk taking.  So where are programs to help them do this?

In looking it over, I found some common threads: 1) many programs start right in prison, among active prisoners, rather than people out on the street. However, some work with released people and 2) yep, there's no grants or money giveaways.  At best, some offer the chance to get a microloan on favorable terms.  But the training in entrepreneural skills, especially writing business plans that you can present to institutions that loan money, is important in being able to get access to money.

Where to look?  Probably the most well-known is PEP (Prison Entrepreneurship Program) in Texas, in which inmates are chosen from across the Texas penal system to participate, after which they are transferred to the Cleveland (TX) facility and given an intensive course in business startup skills like marketing, finance and business plan writing.  The inmates have to be within 18 months of the end of their sentences, with at least 6 more months to serve, and must read and do math on at least the 10th grade level. Likewise, the Oklahoma Ex Offender Entrepreneural Training and Support Services are for inmates with GEDs or high school diplomas who are close to release. For women prisoners in Washington State and Oregon, there is the LIFE Prison Re-entry program that teaches entrepreneural skills to prisoners at Coffee Creek Correctional Facility in Wilsonville, OR, and the Washington Correctional Center for Women.

But what's out there once you're out?  There are a few things around the country.  One is Defy Ventures in metropolitan New York, which offers business training.  JVSChicago runs all sorts of business and job training, but has in the recent past offered the B.E.S.T program especially for ex-offenders. Project ReMade in the San Franciso area run by the Stanford Law School provides business training for women ex-offenders that have been out at least a year, but less than five years who have a high school diploma or a GED.  WIBO (Workshop in Business Opportunities) in New York that does all sorts of business training has workshops for ex-offenders.  Most interestingly, in the San Francisco area, the Springmeyer Law Firm offers pro bono services for ex-offenders who are starting up their businesses.

For more information on ex-offender business training opportunities, see this Inc magazine article, which is a few years old, but still has good information.

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