LEAP’s in-prison educational program addresses the unique pathways to prison and needs of women and is evidence-based. LEAP is one of the few programs in the country that takes a comprehensive and holistic approach to preparing incarcerated women for release. In addition, LEAP supports graduates post-release by acting as a bridge to housing, jobs and other resources. While the re-entry program aims to reduce recidivism, the overarching goal is for women to be provided with the tools to not only avoid returning to prison, but to lead joyful, meaningful and productive lives.
LEAP offers classes to incarcerated women who are within a year of release. We work with 50-60 students each year, who are selected from women incarcerated throughout the Florida state correction system. Those who are accepted into the LEAP program are transferred to the Homestead Correctional Institute for Women where classes take place.
LEAP currently runs two classes per year, each one lasting 5 months with over 250 hours of coursework. The program includes entrepreneurship, workforce readiness, trauma informed addiction and extensive cognitive behavioral work, including the nationally recognized programs Thinking for a Change and Seeking Safety. Participants collaborate with instructors to create business plans, exit plans for re-entry into the community and relapse prevention plans.
In the workforce readiness portion of the course, students participate in an intensive employability training coursework. This portion of the program is very interactive and includes résumé preparation, job search skills/tips, case studies and role playing. Additionally, life skills training is a critical component. The classroom instruction and materials are specifically designed to foster a spirit of independence and initiative. Goal setting and decision-making skills are important components of the learning experience.
Over the course of the entrepreneurship part of the program, students learn the nuts and bolts of starting a micro-business. Topics include marketing strategies, preparing a business plan, daily business management, and financing a business. All participants are required to write and present a polished business plan at the conclusion of the program. By completing the multi-disciplinary entrepreneurship curriculum, participants develop the financial literacy, interpersonal skills, and knowledge needed to create a micro-enterprise post release, or to be a better-informed employee. Post release, LEAP graduates are eligible to participate in LEAP pitch competition, where they present their business to a panel of entrepreneurs for a chance to win cash prizes. Graduates who compete in the pitch competition are also eligible to apply for up to $1,000 in financing for their business.
While LEAP advocates for second chances, for the vast majority of our students, they have never had any chances. Over 80%were victims of childhood sexual abuse and over 70% were involved in abusive relationship as adults, leading to substance abuse and crime. To be successful employees, business owners, mothers and members of society, it is essential that they are able to address their trauma and addiction. Accordingly, the third component of LEAP’s in-prison classes includes addiction, trauma and cognitive behavioral programming.
With regard to impact, context is important. Most women leave prison unprepared to address the social, economic and personal challenges that led to incarceration. While LEAP advocates for second chances, the vast majority of students never had a first chance: 82% were victims of childhood sexual abuse, 80%+ were involved in abusive relationships as adults, leading to substance abuse and crime. The vast majority suffers from mental illness. Yet, only 14% of women in Florida prisons receive any programming. The limited rehabilitation programs that do exist focus on males and are of dubious efficacy.
Equipping women transitioning from prison with skills to create a small business or secure jobs, gain economic stability, and support their families in turn positively impacts the community by empowering the most impoverished and marginalized demographic in Florida, rejuvenates the local workforce, lessens strain on local resources, and reduces crime.
Our program reduces recidivism among women released from prisons in Florida–less than 6% of graduates return to prison v 50%+ nationwide. By empowering them to become employed or self-employed, and thus helping to reduce the rate of recidivism, we alleviate the burden on the community by eliminating costs of incarceration and adding self-sustaining, contributing individuals back into society. LEAP has proven that with organizational structure and funding success will follow.