The United States has a serious prison problem. We incarcerate more citizens than any other country on the planet, 5x the rate of countries comparable to our size. In Georgia alone, we hold the 5th largest prison population and between 1982-2002, our inmate numbers nearly tripled.
Over 90% of state inmates re-enter society, but 2 out of 3 are rearrested within three years. Recidivism proves that freedom doesn’t last long. An effort to reduce reimprisonment and improve second chances is Pentorship, a nonprofit organization exposing inmates to 21st-century skills. We recently sat down with Founder and CEO Kristen Daniel to find out how they are using technology, education, and opportunity to “reinvent the will.”
Entering the System
“I actually got the idea for Pentorship after a friend of mine went to prison,” said Daniel. “He inspired me to expose entrepreneurship to that population and over the last five years we’ve evolved into an organization focused on providing programs directly to inmates and more comprehensive content to businesses trying to help that population upon reentry.”
“I spent a lot of time traveling throughout the country to gain a better understanding of the prison system. There are so many incarceration experiences and from what I’ve found, most programs are trying to throw one solution at a problem that has so many different needs.”
Pentorship hopes to deliver on those needs with two keystone initiatives – one focused on community, the other on business – and both of which work to counteract recidivism and offer opportunity upon inmate reentry. Their B2C (Business to Community) initiative offers in-prison classes, distance learning courses, virtual volunteering, and community webinars, while their B2B model, which recently evolved into a separate for-profit company, Pentorship EdLabs centers on data-driven instructional design and content services.
“Our hope for Pentorship EdLabs is to transform our services into a SaaS product for businesses who can train returning citizens – creating a pipeline of tech and entrepreneurial talent.”
Breaking the Bar Barrier
“Contrary to popular belief it’s hard to get involved with the prison system. I had to become a certified volunteer on the state and federal level before I could really get things moving – and the same goes for any of our volunteers who want to teach in the classroom.”
“While there are agencies that really want to help inmates, so many of them are training people on jobs that won’t exist in five years. There is a huge information gap when it comes to entrepreneurship and technology because society is moving at such a fast pace which isn’t matched by courses being offered inside the system. What we are trying to do is to evolve and offer education for jobs that will be around for the next twenty years so when people re-enter, they are more equipped to succeed (and fill the 21st-century workforce gap).”
The Freedom to Flourish
While Daniel is sure to face obstacles in the future, Pentorship is on the path towards a breakthrough. This month, they will welcome 40 new classmates who will take their course on Entrepreneurial Thinking – and between prison classes and distance learning courses taught a combined 61 inmates. On the B2B side, they’ve partnered with Edovo, a prison tablet company out of Chicago, which will collectively impact over 500 inmates – both adult and juvenile.
“It’s rewarding when I see my students rooting for us. There are so many brilliant minds in prison and from what I’ve seen, the second you spark someone’s interest, you ignite them and they become so engaged – it’s really powerful to see.”