The now controversial 1994 U.S. crime bill was enacted the same year that Televerde was founded in Phoenix, AZ. More than two decades later, the former is responsible for accelerating mass incarceration, which costs this country $182 billion annually. The latter operates a business model that delivers sales and marketing solutions to top businesses like SAP, Adobe-Marketo and Pulse Secure with a talent pool that consists largely of women hired, trained and compensated inside two U.S. state correctional facilities. I’m proud to be starting my 21st year with Televerde, a company that has been leading with purpose long before the word was on any company’s radar.
From day one, we believed that everyone deserves a fair shot at rebuilding their lives and becoming more than their worst mistake. We believed in this so strongly that we began to invest in one of the most stigmatized populations in the United States – incarcerated women. Since then, we’ve been empowering women with business skills and technology certifications, which helps them prepare for life after prison. We partner with the Arouet Foundation, a non-profit organization founded by Televerde in 2011 to help women prepare and support the women as the return to the community. You see, employability and employment are only half the battle. Arouet provides personalized services to help women increase their success and avoid recidivism once they’re released. Together with Televerde, Arouet helps women tap into their strengths, identify viable career paths, and establish stable, self-sufficient lives after incarceration.
When people hear about our company today, they’re not only intrigued, they’re supportive. But here’s the thing: public perception hasn’t always been on our side, especially in the 1990s. It’s only been the last decade that criminal justice reform has started to gain traction. How could it not? Today, there are 2.3 million people in our nation’s prisons and jails—a 500% increase over the last 40 years. Changes in law and policy (like tougher drug sentences, Three-Strikes Law) explain most of this increase. Also, as business leaders began to assume roles in politics, they became acutely aware of the financial strain mass incarceration has on state and federal budgets (it’s triple the rate of funding for K-12 education). Our criminal justice system became ripe for change.
What’s also changed is people’s perception of business. Consumers are looking for brands that take a stand and that make both profit AND purpose part of their business strategy. And they will walk away from brands that don’t. This is why my job today is to tell our story and show how the global business community can and should lead with purpose.
Business as a Force for Good
Televerde has done an incredible job delivering for our clients. One of our biggest customers is the largest global enterprise software company in the world. They’ve been a client of ours for 10 years. We have delivered more than 30,000 qualified sales opportunities for them, from which they’ve realized more than $825 million in revenue and a 14:1 return on their investment. Companies like this don’t buy from us because we have a cool business model—that’s just the icing on the cake. They buy from us because we’re the best at what we do.
The flip side of our business is HOW we deliver for our clients. The women who work for us go through extensive training to learn every last detail of the solutions they’ll represent. They are certified in technologies such as Marketo, Eloqua and Salesforce. They learn soft skills and business acumen that one can only gain from real-world professional experiences. It’s precisely this knowledge that prepares them for real careers as they re-enter our communities.
Regardless of all our work, business achievements and success stories to date, it’s been difficult for us to quantify the social and economic impact we’ve had on individuals, families and the state of Arizona. Until today…
Findings from Arizona State University’s Seidman Research Institute
We recently partnered with Arizona State University’s Seidman Research Institute to measure the effectiveness of our prison workforce development program. This study has been a year in the making, and worth every minute of the wait. Here’s what we now know:
Impact on program participants:
- Recidivism (the tendency of a convicted criminal to reoffend) among program participants is 91 percent lower than the BJS’ national rate among females released from state prisons.
- One-year rate: 0.4%
- Three-year rate: 4%
- Graduates are 2X more likely to be in gainful employment post-release; 94% of graduates are in paid employment 5 years after incarceration compared to 49% of other formerly incarcerated women.
- Graduates earn almost four times the national average for formerly incarcerated females, average lifetime earnings of up to $1.9M depending on age.
- Despite similar levels of at the time of incarceration, graduates attain higher levels of education with 84% having some college and 30% earning advanced degrees.
Impact on families:
- Dependent children are 11x more likely to graduate high school than dependent children of other incarcerated mothers.
- Adult children 11x less likely to be incarcerated compared to the adult children of other incarcerated mothers.
- Almost 70% of graduates report improved relationships with children, partners/spouses, and other family members as a result of their experience.
Impact on the state of Arizona:
- Reduced recidivism.
- Saves up to $9.5M annually; $76M since 2011 for Arizona state.
- $7.8M – $8.9M annual savings due to fewer children in foster care.
- <3% dependence on entitlement programs due to higher employment and salaries.
- Program participants may contribute an additional $27M in personal income taxes over their post-release lifetime due to increased earnings.
- Televerde operations generated $238M GDP and $196M labor income 2011- 2018.
We’re Not Alone
I’d love to pull my Televerde colleagues into a giant group hug to celebrate these results, but they are so much bigger than Televerde 2020. These results are 25 years in the making. They encompass every Televerde woman inside Perryville Correctional in Arizona and the Rockville and Madison Correctional Facilities in Indiana today, as well as every graduate of our program since 1995. (Note: While this study only looked at our work in Arizona, we’ve replicated our model in Indiana and will expand to the U.K. prison system later this year.)
It’s also the result of every corporate employee from Arizona to Argentina, and Scotland to Australia. Our impact would not be possible without our long-standing partnership with the Arizona Department of Corrections and Arizona Correctional Industries. (It’s worth noting that Arizona has been providing inmate programs and supporting progressive workforce programs like Televerde’s for nearly 25 years. My hat is off to them for being with us from the start.)
And we wouldn’t be where we are today without our clients who believed in our business model long before it was the socially acceptable thing to do. Every customer, every partner, every supporter – I’m sending high fives to each and every one of you.
We’ve always known that Televerde aspired to operate as “force for good,” but what an incredibly validating feeling to have a lifetime of work backed up by third-party researchers. Thank you to ASU and the Seidman Research Institute for further confirming that second chances change lives and communities, exponentially.