(Washington, DC) —Senate Committee on Small Business & Entrepreneurship Ranking Member Ben Cardin (D-Md.) today released letters from 10 organizations urging Congress to pass the bill.
The letters were sent by Mission: Launch—the organization hosting Ranking Member Cardin and stakeholders at the roundtable tomorrow—the National Urban League, Georgetown University, Small Business Majority, JustLeadershipUSA, and Defy Ventures, in addition to a coalition letter signed by the U.S. Black Chambers, Inc., Association for Enterprise Opportunity, Association of Women’s Business Centers, and National Small Business Association.
Mission: Launch wrote: “The State of Maryland has been a leader in passing policies to reduce incarceration and we are proud that Senator Cardin is continuing in this tradition…Supporting entrepreneurs, especially those turning to small business as a means to move beyond their criminal record and become productive citizens, is a win-win. Our country benefits when small businesses grow and give back and the NEW START Act is a unique opportunity to equip returning citizens to become self-sufficient, restore public trust and give an extra boost to America’s economy.
The National Urban League wrote: “The National Urban League believes that when returning citizens come home after paying their debt to society, it is our job to equip them with the tools they need to rebuild their lives. We call on Congress to pass the New Start Act and provide returning citizens with another tool to successfully return to their local communities.”
Georgetown University, which created a certificate program in business and entrepreneurship for returning citizens, wrote: “Legislation like the NEW START Act allows us to make good on our promise to provide returning citizens with a meaningful second chance. It is hard to overstate the hurdles that these people face; Georgetown urges Congress to pass the NEW START Act, which will give returning citizens a greater chance to thrive and to become contributing members of our communities.”
Small Business Majority wrote: “Returning citizens are often eager to contribute to their communities and to achieve financial independence. Supporting entrepreneurial development programs for formerly incarcerated individuals will help those shut out of the labor market create their own jobs by starting small businesses, which will benefit our economy overall.”
The U.S. Black Chambers, Inc., Association for Enterprise Opportunity, Association of Women’s Business Centers, and National Small Business Association together wrote: “This legislation is a critical next step after the bipartisan passage of the FIRST STEP Act last year, and builds upon the successes of programs across the country that have successfully deployed entrepreneurial development to reduce recidivism by helping returning citizens secure employment and start businesses…we believe this bill will have a positive effect on the communities we serve, giving returning citizens a fair shot at economic stability.”
JustLeadershipUSA wrote: “[Returning citizens] face myriad barriers that create a second punitive sentence that follows them for life, long after they have completed their court-ordered sentence…This legislation is an important step for providing formerly incarcerated people and people with convictions an opportunity for a working future. This program will build upon the foundation of programs across the country that have successfully deployed entrepreneurial development to help lift people up and strengthen communities by helping directly impacted people secure employment and start businesses.”
Defy Ventures wrote: “Many [returning citizens] struggle to find gainful employment upon release but are passionate about starting up their own enterprise. It often takes a loan of less than $20,000 to get a small business up and running, but access to this capital is a tremendous struggle for someone with a criminal history. With guidance, support, and resources, formerly incarcerated individuals can create new businesses that give back to the community and ultimately provide opportunities for others who have gone through similar circumstances. Support from legislation such as S. 1077 will create more avenues for entrepreneurial success, which ultimately strengthens public safety.”
Every year, more than 600,000 people are released from prisons, and an additional 11 million cycle through local jails. An estimated 64.6 million Americans—25 percent of the adult-age population—have a criminal record of some kind. The Department of Justice has found high rates of recidivism among returning citizens, with half of all returning citizens recidivating within 3 years and 60 percent recidivating within 5 years.
One of the primary drivers of high recidivism rates is the inability for returning citizens to find a job: up to 60 percent of ex-offenders remain unemployed one year after their release. A 2015 Manhattan Institute study revealed that employment, especially within the first six months of release, drastically lowers the likelihood of recidivism for nonviolent offenders.
The Cardin bill would build on the successes of programs across the country that have successfully deployed entrepreneurial development to reduce recidivism by helping returning citizens secure employment and start businesses. In Texas, the Prison Entrepreneurship Program—which has graduated more than 2,300 returning citizens—has helped 100 percent of its participants secure employment within 90 days and has helped its participants start more than 360 businesses. In Oregon, the state Department of Corrections found that participants in the Lifelong Information for Entrepreneurship Program were 41 percent less likely to recidivate. Defy Ventures, which operates in New York, California, Connecticut, Colorado, Washington, and Illinois, reports an 82 percent employment rate and a less than 5 percent recidivism rate for its released graduates.