Gregory Fairchild / Darden

Darden Prisoner Reentry Initiative. 

The impetus for this idea was a luncheon with Dean Bruner, in which he shared a letter he had received from a prisoner in the Dilwyn Correctional Facility. The inmate was requesting assistance with education to aid his eventual reentry to life after prison. Dean Bruner and I were taken with this prisoner’s initiative and I engaged in future research about the viability of such a program.

The remainder of this note provides selected details of an exploratory program on prisoner reentry entrepreneurship education, and a plan for involvement of Darden students in this initiative. The viability of this initiative will be supported by funds from the Tayloe Murphy Center.

Prisoner Reentry and Recidivism. There are nearly 13,500 inmates released annually from Virginia Corrections facilities. Currently, there is 29% recidivism rate within 3 years (i.e., inmates return to prison within three years). Prisoner recidivism costs the state in operational funds and increased law enforcement. Lowering recidivism is a community-level benefit.

Governor’s Initiative on Reentry. In June, Governor Bob McDonnell signed into law his prisoner re-entry initiative (composed of three bills), and created a council to oversee efforts to combat prisoner recidivism. One of the key elements in the plan is that inmates need to retrain for the labor market, and without this training, they are at risk to engage in criminal activity. I have attached a copy of text from a recent Richmond Times-Dispatch article on the Governor’s initiative.

Key Partnership: Virginia Department of Corrections Education. The Governor’s initiative emphasizes the importance of training, especially employment training, for inmates nearing release. Many prisons, in addition to having a warden and corrections staff, have a corrections education staff. These include instructors and principals. Few of these faculty have content knowledge or experience in teaching entrepreneurship.

Strategic fit with Darden. At Darden, we believe our Socratic pedagogical method and curriculum are unique. I believe that the opportunity to test case pedagogy with this population is an opportunity to show the breadth and power of our methods. An Exemplar: Prisoner Entrepreneurship Program. There are numbers of programs around the country that are involved in prisoner reentry and education. Many of these are with university volunteers, including business schools. A unique program I found was based at the Cleveland facility near Houston, Texas. Run by a non-profit, this program engages inmates in entrepreneurship education and a business plan competition. It has been in existence for 7 years, and has just begun their 16th class of students (nearly 500 graduates thus far). Inmates from across the state are transferred to this facility after a statewide application process (to date, graduates of this program have a 10% recidivism rate). The leadership of this facility has agreed that we can visit in person to learn more about their program. Dream Idea: Enlist a cadre of Darden students to research, design and assist in the development of a pilot entrepreneurship curriculum for this initiative. Key elements of this plan are listed below.

Research Best Practice. Darden students would research best-practice in prisoner reentry programs using primary and secondary sources. They would build a business-case for entrepreneurship training and for Darden, including estimated costs and benefits to the Commonwealth.

Curriculum Development. Working with Department of Corrections staff and Darden case writers, students would assist in the development of a curriculum for the reentry program with a case study design, customized to the target population, and with an entrepreneurial emphasis. The Tayloe Murphy Center will fund the curriculum development for this program, consistent with our mission.

Screening and Selection. As noted above, a substantial number of inmates are released each year. Of these, it is important to recognize that in addition to their past criminal activity, the prison population has low levels of literacy, and many come from low-income families or areas of the state. For these reasons, screening criteria for a program would need to be developed that would recognize the importance of educational fitness, but also behavioral history, and intent to engage in entrepreneurship.

Funding Opportunities. Students will investigate potential funding sources at the pilot stage and in potential future expansions. Local, State and Federal governments have funds for Prisoner Reentry education. Additionally, religious organizations have considerable efforts around prisoner redemption.

Realistic Expectations. There is an extensive academic literature on prisoner re-entry programs. My limited reading suggests what we might expect: comprehensive interventions are more likely to get better results. Even a top-drawer case study intervention alone will be insufficient to deeply lower recidivism. Partnership with grassroots institutions can aid in decreasing recidivism.

Pilot Instructors. The program in Texas uses volunteer instructors, including MBAs. In addition to the construction of curriculum, students may pilot teach the program, if desirable by all parties.

Potential Site for a Pilot Test. Through Tayloe Murphy Center programmatic work, I have connected with Clinch Valley Community Action in Tazewell, VA. This organization has a relationship with The conversation was about a number of ways we might assist with a local prison, Pocahontas State Correctional Facility. The Warden and Principal of this facility are excited about this potential pilot program.

Pilot Program with Darden Student involvement, Darden, Clinch Valley Community Action and Pocahontas could collaborate on the following steps with Darden student assistance:

The Business Case. A formal study of the potential costs, benefits and funding strategy for this program.

A potential visit to Houston, Texas to learn first-hand about the Prisoner Entrepreneurship Program

Students will help develop appropriate efficacy measures of program delivery Curricular Assistance. A custom case curriculum, appropriate for inmates and even based in cases on inmates that have successfully transitioned to entrepreneurship Selection and screening. Corrections staff will advise on appropriate evaluation elements and manage the recommendation of potential participants

Darden students will research and recommend participant pool application processes Potential Test Case Delivery. Where possible, and if appropriate, interested students will be able to participate as instructors.