Thank you for your thoughtful article regarding Princeton’s effort to educate the incarcerated. You will be interested to know that Bert Smith ’76 was the CEO of the Prison Entrepreneurship Program (PEP) in Texas for eight years, 2010-2018. PEP teaches convicted felons how to channel their entrepreneurial skills into legal endeavors. PEP is a full-time program lasting one year and consists of six months of character-development training followed by a six-month business curriculum. Each student develops a business plan, competes for a $10,000 prize, and receives a certificate from Baylor University upon graduation. PEP also supplies seed capital for the graduate entrepreneurs, and to date, 390 businesses have been born in the process.
In addition to PEP’s full-time staff who manage the program inside and out, teams of executive volunteers spend about one day per month interacting and coaching students. My involvement has been as a volunteer during much of the time that Bert served as CEO. Under Bert’s leadership, PEP achieved a three-year student recidivism rate of 8 percent, vs. 25 percent for Texas and 50 percent nationally. And 100 percent of PEP graduates are employed within 90 days of release from prison, with a 23-day average time “from prison to paycheck” and an average starting wage of $12.60 per hour. Please visit pep.org for more information.