An Oklahoma state senator is pushing for a prison reform program that’s turning some inmates into entrepreneurs, saving taxpayers millions of dollars.
It’s only in Texas right now, but it’s getting national attention.
Here in Oklahoma, we have the highest incarceration rates of men and women, and the Governor just recently signed a handful of prison reform bills.
This program would not only help prisoners get a job when they’re released, but also help prevent them from ending up back behind bars.
"I was into drugs and alcohol, deeply, and took the life of a man in a drug deal gone horribly wrong," stated Bryan Kelley. "I had been locked up for 22 years, so I had never Googled anything, never sent an email, never used a cell phone or debit card."
Kelley graduated from the 'Prison Entrepreneurship Program,' or PEP, in 2014 and is now driving the mission across the state line.
The prisoners spend three months on character development, then they learn how to develop a detailed business plan and present it to Shark-Tank style panels.
"It empowered me to think bigger, to have new ideas, and have new resources, and a new network of people that would help me make a difference on a larger scale," said Kelley.
In Texas, 100% of PEP grads are employed within 90 days of getting out.
Nearly all of them still have a job a year later, compared to the national average unemployment rate of 50 percent for ex-offenders.
Senator Wayne Shaw says it’s an effective way to turn inmates into taxpayers, instead of tax consumers.
He says "we can save our state a lot of money when you talk about $20,000 per person, per year.”
And it's not just about cost. It's about compassion.
"When you rescue just one person, that's not just one person. That's a family, that's a generation. It's going to make a difference, a huge difference in our state," said Shaw.
"They're trying to do the very best they can, typically with a very small toolbelt, and we want to do something about that," stated Kelley.
So far, grads have started 350 businesses in Texas – all of them have gotten jobs after securing housing and other simple but important steps, like starting a bank account.
Some roadblocks are being worked out with the Oklahoma Department of Corrections and mentors and funding are being sought before finalizing plans for our state.