Thursday, September 11, 2008

Felony Entrepreneurship

American society finds it difficult to give felony offenders a second chance in the area of employment after they are released from jail. Business insurance requirements and owner liability concerns make it difficult for businesses to hire individuals with felonies. Yet, the post-incarceration success of offenders is directly related to their ability to secure employment.

At Belay Enterprises, we’ve had success placing non-violent felony offenders into real jobs in the community after they’ve completed 6 months to one year in one of our employment training businesses. Private businesses are willing to hire offenders after they’ve proven themselves with an employment history and the successful completion of a program. But for offenders with a violent felony offense, future employment opportunities are almost completely nonexistent. This is the case even though, in our experience, there are significant degrees of variance in the seriousness of violent offenses. For instance, running into a police car while driving under the influence of drugs becomes a violent felony offense even though it is unlike a felony assault with a deadly weapon. So for a certain number of felons with violent and non-violent offenses securing employment becomes impossible even though it has many positive benefits for society.

I believe that one possible answer to this dilemma is through entrepreneurial opportunity. Many of the felony offenders that I have met over the years are very entrepreneurial in nature. They have just created businesses, like drug operations, that were against the law. By channeling their business talents into healthy, law-abiding operations they can create enterprises that allow them to support their families while building resources for their communities. They just need support from other Christian entrepreneurs helping them think through a business plan and the other basics of start-up enterprises. With the right mentoring support, I believe that felony offenders can create successful operations in the areas of landscaping, recycling, HVAC, janitorial and home improvement among many others.

In past years, Belay Enterprises has worked to help individuals in disadvantaged communities create their own enterprises. Recently, we have focused more on incubating our own employment training businesses. I am hoping over the next few months to build a network of Christ-following entrepreneurs that want to use their gifts and time to mentor individuals from disadvantaged communities in the creation of business enterprises. By investing in others, they will help build ventures with the power to impact society for the kingdom. This is true business as ministry. Stay tuned for more information on how you can get involved.

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