Prison Entrepreneurship Program

By Christopher Zoukis

Name: Prison Entrepreneurship Program

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Associated Educational Institution: None

Associated Prison: Cleveland Correctional Facility


Mailing Address:


P.O. Box 926274

Houston, TX 77292-6274

Phone Number: Not Public

Fax Number: Not Public

Email Address:

Point of Contact:

Social Media:

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  • ·         Other: (Blog)

The Prison Entrepreneurship Program – For Creating Leaders

In 2004, Wall Street Insider Catherine Rohr toured a local prison and found that many of those behind bars had the qualities of a great industry leader. They were familiar with marketing, accounting, competition, sales, planning – their crimes often correlated directly with the qualities of difference makers in business, simply without the opportunities to utilize those skills productively.

Since its inception the program has continued to grow, and is now one of the most successful prison education programs in the United States in terms of graduate outcomes.

Data on the Prison Entrepreneurship Program

  • ·         7% recidivism rates among graduates.
  • ·         800+ graduates since 2004.
  • ·         73% employment within 30 days of release.
  • ·         100% employment within 90 days of release.
  • ·         100% funding from private donors. 33% of funding from graduates.
  • ·         Estimated 340% ROI from donations.
  • ·         Average starting wage upon graduation, $11 per hour (minimum wage in Texas $7.25)

Notable Classes and Professors

At the moment, the PEP program is run by business professionals and is not affiliated with any educational institution. The CEO of PEP, Bert Smith, also serves as one of the leading educators. The program is run and operated by entrepreneurs and business owners because it is not a college program, but rather a training program for inmates that show signs of becoming contributors.

Classes include textbooks such as:

  • ·         “Entrepreneurship: A Small Business Approach” by Charles Bamford
  • ·         “Entrepreneurship – How to Start and Operate a Small Business” by Steve Mariotti

Students also go through a curriculum known as “FastTrac” and receive individualized instruction from many local business leaders in the Texas area. Within the prison, the Prison Education Program has its own library and access several tools to improve education and outcome.

Notable Information on the Prison Education Program

The program does not currently serve any women’s prisons due to the disproportionate number of male prisoners in Texas (currently at nearly 10 to 1). The program boasts at least 2 millionaires and over 120 small business owners on record. In 2012 alone, the program had over 80 graduates.

The program made national headlines when its founder was caught up in a scandal involving relationships with local prisoners. But after her resignation, the program continued to grow and receive a healthy amount of funding, and has since been able to recover from the negative press and expand its services.

What makes PEP a powerful choice for prisons is that its services do not end after the student has graduated. After the inmate has been released from prison, PEP supplies housing, professional clothing, healthcare, access to available job opportunities, and much more. They are provided a care package with “basic necessities” that include hair gel, combs, toothbrushes, shampoo, and other essentials, and receive assistance with parole counselling and family reunification.

They are also provided access to additional education upon release, through an online school associated with the University of Houston. They can receive mentoring from some local executives and possibly even financing to start a business if they can show investors that they are trained and ready to run a profitable company.

Overall, the program has been a resounding success, and continues to grow each year. While the admissions process is difficult, those that manage to enroll in the program are likely to have more success than the rest of the prison population.

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