Prisons are meant to punish the criminal, compensate the victim and to rehabilitate dysfunctional individuals to improve their lives and prevent them from committing further crimes (Centre for Entrepreneurs, 2016). Given the large numbers of incarcerated people in prisons in Europe (Germany 79, Ireland 82 and Romania 107 per 100.000 inhabitants), as well as the fact that there are high rates of recidivism for former prisoners (35% in Germany, 38.4% in Romania, 55.2% in Ireland), there is a great need to understand better the reasons for relapse among released prisoners and to create enhanced mechanisms for preventing further crimes. Research has shown that one crucial success factor for reducing recidivism can be reintegration into work (e.g., Chappell, 2004; Costelloe & Langelid, 2011). The solution sounds very simple, but there are multiple caveats attached to it for ex-prisoners: For example, there is a negative attitude of employers towards prisoners, which some attribute to stigma (e.g., Cooney, 2012), which makes it very difficult to find any employment for people that have a criminal record. More recently, people have tried an alternative approach to reintegration into work i.e. reintegration through entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurship programs, which were often developed in and imported from the USA, have tried to foster entrepreneurial thinking and action in prisoners so that postrelease they can become more autonomous and self-determined through self-employment rather than depending solely on employment. Although the idea seems plausible at first sight, such entrepreneurship trainings come with their limitations. For example, in a prison environment, using traditional teaching and training methods, it is almost impossible to have a competency- and project-based training approach, as prisoners are not able to test out their ideas whilst still being incarcerated. Similarly, the few available educational programs regarding entrepreneurship for prisoners have mainly focused on the business mindset approach aimed at delivering basic knowledge on running a business. However, recent research (Frese et al., 2016) has shown that in addition to this business approach, a psychological mindset approach to entrepreneurship education is fruitful in helping to generate the entrepreneurial intentions of people. These studies have been primarily conducted with students, however, it seems logical that such an approach would be especially beneficial to prisoners as it is crucial to work on prisoners’ attitudes, motivation and self-efficacy for them to develop a long-term oriented way of thinking and acting. Lastly, traditional prison entrepreneurship programs are failing to translate the knowledge gained during imprisonment into action once prisoners are released. Hence, it is important that an entrepreneurial training program for prisoners takes a multidisciplinary approach and includes the post-release phase. Of course, educational programs need to start during imprisonment in order to lay the groundwork for future selfemployment and ideally such programs can also utilize digital teaching methods for their sustainability. But once free (then) ex-prisoners will likely realize the challenges of enacting their entrepreneurial thoughts and ideas and will need personal guidance and coaching for following through with them. Although in many European countries there are support organizations that help ex-prisoners to deal with the basic challenges of life including finding work, such organizations lack the knowledge and training in respect to entrepreneurial coaching for ex-prisoners. In European countries, such as Ireland, Germany and Romania, the increasing focus on entrepreneurship for prisoners has led to a growing need for evidence-based approaches to entrepreneurship training as a means for ex-prisoners to join the labor market.
The overarching objective of the project is to design and evaluate a new integrated approach to an entrepreneurship education program for prisoners. These programs are evidence-based approaches to reduce the recidivism rate among prisoners, but given that most entrepreneurial ideas fail, a program that solely focuses on business aspects is not enough for achieving positive long-term effects. Thus, our new integrated and multidisciplinary approach aims at improving previous programs in three different ways:
- A multidisciplinary approach for the training, including fundamental training modules for reintegration.
- Integrate the psychological-mindset approach into entrepreneurial training programs, which might prove to be even more relevant to prisoners.
- Incorporate the post-release phase into the training by building capacity in community-based organizations for entrepreneurial coaching of ex-prisoners.
More specifically by implementing the project we want to achieve the following goals:
A. CREATING AN EVIDENCE-BASIS FOR PRISON ENTREPRENEURSHIP PROGRAMS
We want to create a transnational report that makes a strong case for more integrated approaches to entrepreneurship for prisoners. Hence, apart from addressing teachers, trainers and educators in prisons, and researchers, this report will also be targeted at political decision-makers who want to take decisive action to improve reintegration of ex-prisoners into society and work.
B. TEACHING PRISONERS’ FUNDAMENTAL KNOWLEDGE AND SKILLS THAT WILL FACILITATE THEIR REINTEGRATION
As prisoners face multiple different socio-psychological problems and challenges after release we want to ensure that they are being equipped with knowledge they need concerning, for instance, accommodation, family issues, substance misuse, financial issues, etc. As these problems will likely occur and complicate life-planning, and in the worst-case lead to recidivism, preparing for them is crucial.
C. FOSTER ENTREPRENEURIAL INTENTIONS AMONG PRISONERS AND TRAIN PSYCHOLOGICAL AND ENTREPRENEURIAL SKILLS
As many prisoners face social stigma and prejudices when searching for a job, this project wants to raise awareness for alternative ways of reintegrating through work, i.e. through entrepreneurship. Apart from a business-mindset, prisoners also need a psychological-mindset approach to entrepreneurship to assure that they can work in an autonomous, goal-oriented and sustainable manner. As a result, trained prisoners will generate business ideas, which they ideally turn into a reality after release, thereby reducing the recidivism rates.
D. BUILD CAPACITY IN COMMUNITY-BASED ORGANIZATIONS FOR ENTREPRENEURIAL COACHING OF EX-PRISONERS
Reintegration organizations support ex-prisoners in finding a job, yet many lack the competencies for entrepreneurial coaching that follows entrepreneurship training during imprisonment. By creating an entrepreneurship coaching guideline, we equip staff members in these organizations to build capacity in coaching and consulting of these ex-prisoners, thereby expanding their offerings.
E. RAISING AWARENESS IN THE SOCIETY AT LARGE FOR A MORE INCLUSIVE APPROACH TOWARDS EX-PRISONERS
Prisoners face multiple prejudices when reentering society, both in the work place and private life. In order to raise the awareness of the public for this vulnerable group we want to create a multimedia dissemination strategy showcasing successful examples of ex-prisoners who have founded a company.
These goals can only be achieved by a multidisciplinary perspective and a holistic approach towards entrepreneurship for prisoners. This consortium, therefore, combines expertise from sociology, social work, psychology and business in planning to create a learning experience that reaches a large number of prisoners across Europe and motivates many of them to take steps for becoming self-employed after they are released.