Smarter criminal justice reform
The United States has a massive incarceration problem. Since the 1970s, there has been a 700 percent increase in our prison population. Currently, about 2.3 million women and men are incarcerated, with close to 650,000 people released from prisons each year. The reality that these people face when released is a lack of marketable skills and joblessness. Both of these factors account for the fact that within three years of release, 67.8 percent will be rearrested.
Smart reform must focus on two core areas: employability and helping individuals address the issues that led them to prison. The former can be done by providing on-the-job experience in prison and through skills-based programs offered by non-profit organizations like The Last Mile. Both paths must focus on helping women and men increase their marketability so that they are competitive in the hiring process when they reenter society.
One company, Phoenix-based Televerde began working with incarcerated women in Arizona in 1994. Twenty-five years later, the company’s U.S. engagement centers are staffed almost entirely by women in prison. Televerde empowers incarcerated women with business skills and technology certification, which helps them prepare for life after prison. Support continues with career opportunities, mentoring, and a host of life, wellness, and community resources following their release.
A recent study by the Arizona State University Seidman Research Institute validates the social and economic impact of this prison workforce development program on individuals, families and the state of Arizona.
Impact on program participants:
- Recidivism (i.e., the tendency of a convicted criminal to reoffend) among program participants is 91 percent lower than the Bureau of Justice Statistics’ national rate among females released from state prisons: one-year rate: 0.4 percent; three-year rate: 5.4 percent.
- Graduates are 2X more likely to be in gainful employment post-release; 94 percent of graduates are in paid employment 5 years after incarceration compared to 49 percent of other formerly incarcerated women.
- Graduates earn almost four times the national average for formerly incarcerated females, average lifetime earnings of up to $1.9M depending on age.
- Despite similar levels of at the time of incarceration, graduates attain higher levels of education with 84 percent having some college and 30% earning advanced degrees.
Impact on families:
- Dependent children are 11x more likely to graduate high school than dependent children of other incarcerated mothers.
- Adult children 11x less likely to be incarcerated compared to the adult children of other incarcerated mothers.
- Almost 70 percent of graduates report improved relationships with children, partners/spouses, and other family members as a result of their experience.
Impact on the state of Arizona:
- Reduced recidivism.
- Saves up to $9.5M annually; $76M since 2011 for Arizona state.
- $7.8M – $8.9M annual savings due to fewer children in foster care.
- <3 percent dependence on entitlement programs due to higher employment and salaries.
- Program participants may contribute an additional $27M in personal income taxes over their post-release lifetime due to increased earnings.
- These operations generated $238M GDP and $196M labor income 2011- 2018.
These are strong outcomes result from providing marketable skills training, continuous learning and on-the-job experience to individuals while incarcerated. The results also underscore the economic benefits and savings when we prepare people for high-skill jobs.
Today, Televerde operates 10 engagement centers inside three U.S. state prison facilities. This project show government and business the talent that exists behind bars.
The main takeaways include:
- A person’s background or circumstance does not define their character, capabilities or future.
- Discarding anyone for the worst mistake they made on the worst day of their life is a waste of human potential.
- When people are given opportunities and support to reach their highest potential, they almost always will.
Morag Lucey is the Chief Executive Officer for Televerde, an integrated sales and marketing technology organization based in Phoenix, Arizona.