A four-year old privately funded prisoner re-entry progam in Texas hopes to train 1,000 of the 60,000 inmates released each year in the state as business entrepreneurs. The Houston-based Prison Entrepreneurship Program already has graduated 370 inmates with a recidivism rate in the single digits, director Catherine Rohr told the National Institute of Justice’s annual crime research conference yesterday in Washington, D.C. Rohr said the program’s graduates have a 98 percent employment rate. The program has a $3.2 million annual budget and 26 staff members.
The program is not for every inmate. Of those who apply to get in, only 20 percent are accepted and about 60 percent of them complete 680 hours of instruction in everything from life skills to business education. Two graduates spoke to conference attendees yesterday. One of them, Sam Amaya, 28, said he had turned his life around after joining a gang at 13 and serving a prison term for assault with a deadly weapon. Rohr said she had persuaded many business executives to embrace the program and hire its graduates, about half of whom had been involved in violent crime. For the many inmates who don’t qualify for the entrepreneurship program, Rohr urged states to offer more vocational training, especially in computer skills.