This week I spent a day at Wallkill Correctional Facility with Defy Ventures. Defy works with the incarcerated and recently released on job skills, personal development and business formation. 35 of my fellow volunteers provided coaching on personal statements, resumes and business ideas. The participants go through a rigorous screening program then spend many hours over the course of a year working on these skills and more.
It costs $32,000 a year to imprison someone with an average length of time served just over 3 years. The recidivism rate is around 68%. (and please don’t quibble- I know I am mixing time periods and federal/state but the basic facts are close enough not to matter). That puts the cost of incarceration at just under $100,000 per inmate with an expected additional cost of $67,500 for their return trip.
The year-long Defy curriculum is just $500 and while the program is only a few years old and participants are carefully screened, the recidivism rate of graduates is stunningly only 5%. Assuming the same cost of incarceration, the same length of sentence, the Defy creates a net savings of $62,300 (92%)! And of course that doesn’t count the indirect economic benefits of having these men employed, active members of society.
On a pure ROI basis Defy is a massive winner but of course the value of Defy Ventures, and programs like it, goes way beyond economics. In a nation with a weak social safety net and a powerful judicial net, helping people stay out of prison is morally critical. Every person that stays out of prison becomes a social contributor to his or her community. They hold jobs and some create jobs. Many of them can get back involved with their families and become role models in communities otherwise devoid of positive role models.
Frankly it was very, very sad to see so much talent wearing a prison uniform. I was emotionally exhausted at the end of the day. But I was also tremendously hopeful that at least these Defy students had a better shot at success when they get out.
I teach my kids, and try to live myself, by the creed “You are what you do, not what you say.” The visit to Wallkill was about turning my social justice words into action. If anyone reading this is interested in learning more, volunteering or contributing, please go to Defy’s website or reach out to me. I promise your time and money will be very well spent.