Ending the Prison Cycle with Social Enterprises

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Social enterprises

After an individual has paid their debt to society, all there’s left to do is get a job and get on with life, right? Sounds easy enough.

Then how come so many people who’ve been to prison once keep going back?

Some may be surprised by this but as it turns out around 60% of employers, upon initial consideration would not hire an individual released from prison or jail. This doesn’t bode well for recent inmates in a time when even those with college degrees and unscathed backgrounds are having trouble finding employment. In California, between 60-80% of parolees were still unemployed after a release from prison and over 89% of parole violators were unemployed at the time. Just in California the annual cost of re-incarcerating individuals on parole is around $2 billion. Not million, BILLION. That’s a solid chunk of change to have to do something over again. Reincarcerating individuals is costing us all a lot of money. It seems to me that employment would solve a lot of these problems and cut costs. But where to begin?

This is where social enterprises come in. Several social enterprises will focus on hiring those who have recently come out of incarceration, teach them job and some life skills during employment, so eventually they will become more “hire-able” to other employers, ultimately be able to create more sustainable lives for themselves and break the prison cycle. The state of New York is a big proponent of this, using social enterprises to cut down the number of inmates by 9,000 over the last ten years and cutting re-incarceration rates by 40% (while inmate populations in most other states continue to increase).

Helping Hand Rewards partner The Enterprising Kitchen (TEK) is a social enterprise with the same sort of mission as the ones mentioned above. They give recently incarcerated women employment opportunities while teaching them job/life skills and producing high quality soap and spa products along the way.

Among individuals interviewed two years after hire into a social enterprise, 74% were working and 12 percent more were in vocational education. Just as many people have stayed out of jail through social enterprise employment as people going back into prison while being unemployed. Corporations and individuals can support these causes by doing business with these different social enterprises. For example, an individual can purchase soap and spa products from a company like TEK, brownies from Greyston Bakery, or even eco-friendly candles from Bright Endeavors. Corporations can use these social enterprise groups when assembling corporate gifts to clients and/or employees. Most of these types of items are purchased normally, why not do it and help someone in need along the way?

Doing business with these companies and supporting their efforts keeps everything growing and helps break this costly prison cycle. Can you think of any social enterprises like these in your area?

Harry Potter and the Fair Trade Chocolate

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Harry Potter Chocolate Frogs

The title of this blog isn’t likely to become the title of a new post-addition to the Harry Potter series. However, what does the world’s most famous wizard this side of Merlin and chocolate have in common?

The Harry Potter name, along with books and movies, is branded on countless forms of merchandise including chocolate frogs, fudge flies, and cockroach clusters (treats also used in the stories). Chocolate used in these merchandise items most likely comes from Africa’s Ivory Coast, the epicenter of a large debate over fair trade chocolate. The company producing the chocolate for these Harry Potter items is part of the World Cocoa Foundation (WCF), an organization who’s mission statement includes “promotes a sustainable cocoa economy through economic and social development and environmental conservation in cocoa growing communities.” It sounds like a great organization, however other large brands associated with this foundation have pending lawsuits involving child labor laws.

So how can Harry Potter help improve Fair Trade practices in the chocolate industry?

Using its astronomically huge fan base, Harry Potter fans have formed a group called “The Harry Potter Alliance” that is using that fan base to promote social change. One change is the usage of Fair Trade chocolates within the merchandising efforts of the Harry Potter brand. The theory is that if enough voices are raised (and there are plenty of voices in the Harry Potter fandom) that real social change could be enacted.

A good example of a company involved in the fair trade of chocolate is Helping Hand Rewards partner Divine Chocolate. The mission of Divine Chocolate is to improve the livelihood of smallholder cocoa producers in West Africa by establishing their own  chocolate brand, putting farmers higher up the value chain. These cocoa farmers receive a Fair Trade price for their cocoa and use that money to be able to reinvest in their own communities. Divine Chocolate also seeks to raise awareness of Fair Trade issues to retailers and consumers of all types. 

Can Harry wave his wand and help increase Fair Trade practices even further? What do you think?