Since 2017, the non-profit Transforming Safety in Colorado has been offering former prison inmates a fresh start through entrepreneurship training and business loans. The goal was to reduce relapses – Colorado has the fourth worst rate in the country at 50 percent – and to build businesses in underserved areas.
When entrepreneur Cory Arcarese joined the Transforming Safety initiative in late 2018, teaching business classes for ex-inmates, she found that very few business loans reached those who needed them. In fact, few loans have been made.
Through Transforming Safety grants, the Colorado Springs nonprofit CommunityWorks and Solid Rock Community Development Corporation provided services and business classes to ex-offenders – but Accion, Transforming Safety’s designated lender, declined graduate loan applications.
Arcarese, who ran CArc Business Consulting LLC for a decade and is a senior management consultant at Pikes Peak Small Business Development Center, was frustrated by the barriers.
“I tried some of the people who mine [classes at Solid Rock CDC] by [Accion’s small business lending] Program and they refused to change any of their lending criteria, ”recalls Arcarese. “So I asked the Colorado Enterprise Fund … if they would take the program and they said ‘yes’.”
The Colorado Enterprise Fund offers broader access to finance and more flexible business loan terms than traditional lenders. d finally move those loans.
NOT SO FAST
“Even with more flexible lending criteria, they still couldn’t get in. I still couldn’t make loans … because there were some challenges that I wasn’t aware of, ”said Arcarese. “For example, if you are incarcerated, you are still responsible for paying child support. Your child support payments don’t stop, but you have no way to pay them – the second you are 10 years in arrears or three or four years in arrears will ruin your creditworthiness.
“You have no one to sign the loan with you. You have no collateral. You have no job and no way of getting a job. You have nothing. Even if you have more flexible lending criteria, you have no way of getting any capital to finance a business at all. “
Juaquin Mobley, vice president of programs at CommunityWorks, also noted that a small business loan for ex-inmates who are not ready could complicate the already difficult post-release period.
“A lot of people, when they get out, are already burdened with other responsibilities – so taking on more debt is not a wise decision,” Mobley said.
That’s why Mobley, through CommunityWorks Transforming Safety, uses grants to give people out of jail rental grants, meal vouchers, and transportation – along with anything else that “makes them stable,” he said, “wherever they want”. Going the entrepreneurial route would not be a burden; it would be a chance for them. “
Even with that help, Arcarese said, loans would not be granted.
“Only in the last six months has the [Department of Corrections] came up to me and said, ‘OK Cory, why don’t you borrow those Transforming Safety dollars?’ I, who have a bleeding heart for these people – I said it’s all of this. And they said, ‘Okay … we’re giving you carte blanche to revise this program. … Make us a suggestion. ‘
Arcarese’s Suggestion: Have ex-inmates and convicts attend their business class, and those with a solid business plan and reasonable financial projections can get a $ 50,000 loan with five years of repayment upon graduation. If the first three years are repaid on time, the last two years of the loan can be waived.
As part of the revised program, “it doesn’t matter what your creditworthiness is,” she said. “And they don’t need a co-signer and it doesn’t matter if they have collateral. … I have just [the DOC] approve the revised credit program. “
One condition: Arcarese graduates must set up their businesses in Southeast Colorado Springs. The hope is to empower the Southeast with businesses started by its own people.
And “it can’t be another liquor store, another tattoo parlor,” she said, “it has to be a childcare facility or a grocery store or something that the Southeast really needs.
“… you don’t need a co-signer and it doesn’t matter if you have collateral.”
– Cory Arcarese
“When we need childcare in the Southeast and someone comes up with this idea, we say ‘Definitely,'” she added. “We’re going to pull the weeds.”
The first grade of the restarted program begins in August with 20 students who are personally reviewed by Arcarese and Mobley.
Mobley is uniquely positioned to identify former inmates who are likely to succeed in entrepreneurship. He spent nearly eight years in prison for armed robbery and has been determined to help others find new ways ever since. He founded The Community Barbershop / Salon Hub and Pub as a social enterprise – specifically as a point of contact for those who worked in the judiciary, where they can get advice and mentoring; Connect with services, therapies, and training – and work on becoming fit for work. CommunityWorks is located in the back of the Community Barbershop, which serves as the entrance and welcoming space where the hairdressers build relationships and start conversations about their clients’ needs – beyond a haircut.
Mobley and some of his hairdressers work in the judiciary – that is, they’ve had contact with criminal courts, prisons, or prisons – so that they can identify in a way with people returning from incarceration
Government officials usually cannot.
“I learned that culture is king,” said Mobley. “You have to meet people where they are, and for years or decades a lot of programs – especially those from the government – haven’t done a good job.
“So there is a government program … I won’t mention any names … especially in the southeastern part of the city they weren’t that present,” he explained. “And that’s because their approach is very ‘government black and white,’ you see what I mean? And as a result, [their guidance] falls on deaf ears. So when they come in and enroll, it’s not a conversation with the participant as I’ve observed, so there really isn’t any real communication going on there.
“What we found … successful is that we created an atmosphere in which you feel you belong when you enter,” he said. “So we did everything on purpose. … We know for a fact that in our culture, in our communities across the country, [the barbershop] This is where the actual conversation takes place. It has been proven that we trust our hairdressers more than doctors and psychologists. So we used this to our advantage to have honest conversations about where they need help or where they are in life and what insights they can give us to continue our program. And from there the transfer takes place …. We will find a successful career path for you – and work from there to keep your job.
“This is a collaborative effort, and I think that’s what a lot of government agencies really don’t understand – and they hire people who have no real experience. So if you hire people who cannot understand what it is like when one of your parents comes home drunk and the effects it has on you, they are unfamiliar and do not know the psychological effects. So you cannot identify yourself. If you can’t identify yourself, we can’t really have a real conversation. Everything will be like a textbook. “
SUCCESS AND EXPANSION
Transforming Safety was tried and proven successful in northern Aurora and southeast Colorado Springs due to the heavy law enforcement involvement in these areas. The Latino Coalition for Community Leadership reported May 19 that 86 percent of formerly incarcerated participants in the Transforming Safety program have not returned to prison.
That success encouraged a bipartisan effort by lawmakers to pass a new bill this year that extends the program to Grand Junction and Trinidad, with the ultimate goal of expanding the program nationwide.
The original Justice Investment Crime Prevention Act of 2017, which first funded Transforming Safety, was also endorsed by both parties, sponsored by Rep. Pete Lee (D-Colorado Springs), Senator Bob Gardner (R-Colorado Springs), and Senator Daniel Kagan (D -Aurora / Arapahoe). When House Republican Richard Holtorf wanted to help expand the initiative earlier this year, he went to Lee for advice.
“When he first approached me about it, he wanted to apply what I call the equity reinvestment concept across the country,” Lee said. “Well, that’s like swinging for a Grand Slam and we just don’t have the money for a Grand Slam to do this job. You can’t just send a former detainee a check and say, ‘Good luck, try starting a business.’ “
Christie Donner, executive director of the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition, was part of the original crime prevention initiative to reinvest the justice system, and believes laws like this help redistribute funds to the community rather than encourage costly interactions with law enforcement agencies.
“When you look at this type of model, it’s not that dissimilar from the intention of some of the ‘Defund’ [the] Police – who invest in the community, not the criminal justice system or the police, “Donner said. “But we don’t take any money from the police budget for that. We’re talking about community reinvestment. “
Holtorf sees Transforming Safety as an effective investment to change the costly problem of incarceration.
“It costs about $ 160,000 a year to incarcerate,” said Holtorf. “If we can stop that person from jail or someone from going back to jail for 50 cents a dollar, 30 cents a dollar, wouldn’t that be a good investment? That is the thesis behind it. “
Mobley sees Transforming Safety being implemented nationwide and has a vision to go further.
“The intent is for it to be scalable and moved to places that need it as much as we do, the Chicago and New York Cities, the LAs, the Miamis or the Atlantas, New Orleans,” Mobley said. “So this is really the testing ground for this particular type of financing.”
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