Jean Kabongo gives a lecture on entrepreneurship at the Hardee Correctional Institution.
When officials at the Sarasota County Correctional Facility approached Jessica Grosholz and Jean Kabongo about adapting their successful prison entrepreneurship program to a jail population, the USF researchers immediately saw value in the opportunity.
Grosholz and Kabongo, who teach at the Sarasota-Manatee campus, had previously implemented
a series of 10-week classes for inmates at the Hardee Correctional Institution in
Bowling Green, Florida. The inmates learned about how to start and run businesses
upon their release. For the researchers, the opportunity to establish a pilot program
for a jail environment came with some built-in advantages.
Chief among them was the ability to better track the program’s success among inmates who were likely to be released soon and tended to return to their local communities to start businesses.
“We’re not necessarily looking at how many businesses they create, but in knowing
that they’re not coming back to prison,” said Kabongo, Sarasota-Manatee campus dean
and professor for the Muma College of Business. “For us, that is an indication that
the training is having some sort of impact on their transformation.”
Grosholz and Kabongo held the first four-day workshop in August for jail inmates, an adaption owing to the jail population’s more transient nature. They have returned one more time, enabling them to develop theories about how the program resonates with disparate cohorts of inmates.
“Those in prison have in many cases been in for an extensive period of time so they’re a little unrealistic about the kind of businesses they want to start,” said Grosholz, an associate professor of criminology. “But they all have a socially conscious element to them. They want to make it easier for the client than for themselves. It’s almost as if they’re trying to make amends for what they have done.”
Inmates at the jail tend to be younger and, in many cases, have been involved in businesses in the past but lacked the skills to make them successful, she said. One aim of the program is to help individuals who tend to be risk-takers learn to take more calculated risks when it comes to establishing businesses.
“The jail population is significantly more realistic,” Grosholz said, noting that jail inmates are interested in businesses such as mobile detailing, barbershops, food trucks, lawn services, pressure washing or pool maintenance. “Those are definitely things they could start relatively quickly and with little capital.”
Ultimately, Grosholz and Kabongo hope their research will result in the creation of a database to track the success of prison entrepreneurial education. Their work has led to multiple national conference presentations and the development of several academic papers.
“We have collected a lot of data that I think can become a framework for programming in prisons, really allowing individuals to think about, ‘What are the struggles when people get out and how can we improve their chances of handling those struggles?’” Grosholz said. “Employment is one of the most difficult challenges.”