Almost 2.3 million people are in correctional facilities and 5 million formerly incarcerated people live in the United States. All too often, incarcerated people are left ill-equipped to reenter society without falling into the same conditions that contributed to their initial imprisonment: unemployment, poverty, violence, and dependency.
The unemployment rate of previously incarcerated individuals, no matter the offense, is 5x higher than the general population. The effects of incarceration expand beyond one individual as well. Seventy percent of children who have incarcerated parents end up “in the system” and develop criminal records themselves as well.
Defy Ventures is making a difference by prioritizing sustainable solutions for ex-criminals through the lens of entrepreneurship.
By working with prisoners prior to their release and providing intentional programming that sets them up for success in the workforce, Defy Ventures is lowering the recidivism rate and giving the formerly incarcerated population the tools they need to break the cycle of imprisonment.
What Is Recidivism?
Recidivism is a fundamental concept in the criminal system that refers to the relapse of a formerly incarcerated individual into criminal behavior. For example, if an ex-offender is released from state prison, and weeks later is caught engaging in criminal behavior and found guilty. They return to prison and contribute to the recidivism rate as a reoffender.
The recidivism rate is not the likelihood of someone reoffending, rather it is the actual rate at which ex-prisoners do re-offend in general.
What Factors Affect Recidivism?
The factors that affect recidivism are not unlike those that contribute to a first offense that caused the initial prison sentence. These factors don’t exist in a vacuum either. Multiple factors often compound to increase the likelihood of recidivism. These can also be referred to as criminogenic needs, otherwise known as the risk factors that influence re-offending.
Race and Implicit Bias
Around the United States, African Americans are imprisoned at 5 times the rate of whites, while Latinos are imprisoned at 1.4 times the rate of whites. These discrepancies are even more extreme in certain states.
We simply can’t ignore the role that race plays in incarceration. The two are inseparable. Higher rates of imprisonment for people of color versus whites is the direct result of the implicit bias of law enforcement combined with structural racism, which has suppressed the rights of people of color throughout American history.
Just as it contributes to first offenses, neighborhood structure also contributes to recidivism rates. Neighborhoods with high unemployment, poverty, and fewer resources are more likely to experience criminal activity. Therefore the return of recently released convicts to these neighborhoods, where they often don’t have access to support or new income sources, leads to new crime. Even just one shift in zip code can increase someone’s likelihood to be imprisoned.
Level of Education
Black men without strong educational backgrounds are eight times more likely to go to prison than white men. Overall, people with less education are more likely to engage in crime and go to prison than more educated individuals. High school dropouts are 3.5 times more likely to be arrested than graduates, and 68% of men in prison do not have a high school diploma. Education can occur within prisons and during reentry which can decrease recidivism.
Substance Abuse and Mental Illness
In a Swedish study conducted on prisoners with substance abuse problems, researchers found that 69% of the cohort returned to the criminal justice system. They concluded that the risk of recidivism is increased by substance abuse, with a higher risk for those using injectable drugs.
The relationship between mental health issues and recidivism is delicate. Released inmates with a serious mental health condition, such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, are more likely to commit another crime and face reconviction.
What Programs Reduce Recidivism?
Programs that first conduct a risk assessment are the most successful at reducing recidivism. By determining who is low risk vs. high risk for committing a new crime, programs can be adequately distributed to meet the needs of people in the prison population. This is an essential step for the federal and state-level and should be conducted by each department of corrections.
Programs that begin prior to release are the most effective. By working with the incarcerated population during their time in prison, they can gain familiarity with and understand the situations that contributed to their time in prison to begin with and how they can avoid those circumstances upon release.
Examples of Recidivism Programs
A number of reentry programs exist to combat recidivism and assist those looking to reintegrate into society. Community supervision is a form of follow-up for the recently incarcerated population, whether it’s through mental health courts, parole, or probation. These programs seek to secure public safety while providing a more structured environment for reentry.
However, without early intervention and sufficient support, parolees who continue to face unemployment, substance abuse, or homelessness after reentry have a higher chance of re-entering the system.
Mental health courts have proven effectiveness at reducing recidivism rates for people with behavioral health issues. Programs that use Cognitive Behavioral Therapy are also effective at reducing recidivism rates because they encourage a level of reflection and critical thinking that helps people understand their thoughts and feelings that, without recognition and coping strategies, can lead to criminal behavior.
Substance abuse treatment programs are also effective at reducing recidivism, as they provide impactful support structures, equip participants with tools to evaluate their environment and behavior, and encourage individuals to make decisions that benefit their wellbeing.
Research shows that prisoners who participate in job training programs have better employment outcomes than those who don’t. As inmates complete higher levels of education, their likelihood of reentering the prison system decreases substantially.
Defy’s programs have overseen more than 5,200 prisoners through successful reentry, and they’ve effectively cut the recidivism rate in half for their graduates. Because of their work, the recidivism rate after one year for graduates from Defy programs is less than 8%, as compared to the national average of 30%.
Defy Ventures: A Second Chance at a Second Chance
Defy Ventures is a nonprofit organization that works within prison communities to prepare incarcerated individuals for a successful reentry to society. Through four unique programs, Defy is breaking down the barriers and stigmas associated with the formerly incarcerated population and expertly guiding them into a fulfilling, happy life.
Defy’s programs take place at critical moments for prisoners who are expecting reentry. The CEO of Your New Life Program starts prior to reentry and gives students the opportunity to gain the necessary skills to develop employment-readiness, healthy habits, and entrepreneurship training. If formerly incarcerated people have reentered without access to CEO YNL, a boot camp program is available to them.
After completion, either group can work with Defy’s business incubator or alumni program to scale their individual impact and work in a mentoring capacity.
Andrew Glazier, CEO & President of Defy Ventures
Andrew has experience in both the non-profit and for-profit sectors. He believes that everyone deserves a fair chance, which is one of the things that drew him to Defy.
Part of Andrew’s focus is to leverage entrepreneurship to shift mindsets and reduce the stigma around hiring formerly incarcerated people. As someone who spends a large chunk of time in the Los Angeles prison system, Andrew can attest to the quality of this often-overlooked talent pool. With compassion and understanding, Andrew seeks to bridge the gap between employers and the formerly incarcerated, who are finding unique ways to leverage their past for a constructive future.
“I’m not ever telling somebody that you should hire someone because they were incarcerated. I’m saying, don’t exclude them because they were incarcerated if they otherwise can be a value to your business.”
Criminal Justice Reform Resources
The United States incarcerates more people than any other country and the system disproportionally affects marginalized communities. Criminal justice reform seeks to reduce incarceration rates and improve conditions for those within prison.
- Stay Informed: The pandemic has shed light on the continued inequality within prison systems. Visit the Bureau of Justice Statistics and the National Institute of Justice to learn more about our current system.
- Advocate for Prison Reform: Support nonprofits like The ACLU, Defy Ventures, and The Sentencing Project. These organizations are advocating for prison reform and beneficial services for imprisoned populations.
- Take Action: Whether you’re in New York City or rural Indiana, you can write to your policymakers and encourage them to support socially just public policy. As taxpayers, we all have the right to have our voices heard and prison reform is a crucial component of how our society functions.
- Volunteer & Hire: Learn more about how you can support the formerly incarcerated population as an employer, volunteer, or sponsor at Defy Ventures.
Closing: Moving Away From Mass Incarceration
Mass incarceration and high recidivism doesn’t need to be the standard in the United States. It’s less expensive and more ethical for the country to invest in long term solutions for public safety that include services to ease the re-entry process. There is room for positive social change in all aspects of the criminal justice system. This includes not only arrests and trials, but ethical treatment and access to services that enhance health and education during imprisonment, along with exit programs that ensure success in employment and opportunity.
The work that Defy Ventures does to combat stereotypes and misconceptions about formerly incarcerated individuals in tandem with their entrepreneurial programs is crucial to creating a more equitable future for everyone. To reduce recidivism, programs and stakeholders must lead with compassion.
Additional Resources & Links Mentioned from the Episode:
Sustainable Workplaces Manager & Writer
Jackie is the Sustainable Workplaces Manager at Urban Green Lab, a sustainability education nonprofit in Nashville, Tennessee. She’s passionate about connecting people with actionable ways to make a positive impact on the environment. She graduated from Dickinson College with a degree in Environmental Studies and a certificate in Social Innovation & Entrepreneurship. Jackie worked in the nonprofit world in Washington D.C. for Ashoka and the National Building Museum.
Jackie enjoys hiking with her rescue dog, finding craft breweries, and traveling the globe in search of plant-based eats.