The Last Mile/ Defy Ventures

A model for changing incarceration and re-entry.

The future is challenging for former prisoners: one year after release, 60% are unemployed, and 67% are re-arrested within three years. This has dramatic ramifications for the individuals, their families, and society. Today, 70% of the children of incarcerated individuals follow in their parents’ footsteps. This cycle of incarceration-unemployment-recidivism has a steep price, with an average annual cost of $60,000 per inmate – $9 billion annually in California. Lack of education is a key predictor of entry – and re-entry – into prison.

The Last Mile (TLM) and Defy Ventures (Defy) recognize that breaking this cycle has compelling societal and financial benefits, and have witnessed the transformation that occurs when inmates are taught competitive career-building skills. Together, these organizations are providing vocational training and business opportunities for current and former inmates.

The Last Mile is the first technology entrepreneurship and computer programming training program inside a U.S. Prison, representing a unique and innovative approach to recidivism prevention. The goal is to bridge the gap between incarceration and freedom by pairing in-prison software engineer training (HTML, CSS, Javascript etc.) with continued mentorship post-release. TLM currently runs in San Quentin and Ironwood State Prison, with two additional facilities in the pipeline for 2016. Throughout the course of 2015, TLM’s Code.7370 program recruited 15 business partners and 100 volunteers, and contributed over 1000 hours of on-site mentor visits, software engineering training, and curriculum development.

Defy Ventures “transforms hustle” post-incarceration by bringing business leaders and former inmates together for hands-on entrepreneurship training, character development, mentoring, business incubation, financing, and personal development. Defy has educated 400+ formerly incarcerated Entrepreneurs-In-Training (EIT) across 18 states and financed and incubated over 115 startups founded by EITs. As a result of this program, EIT income has increased by 83% and only 3% of participants have been re-arrested. Defy also runs programs in 7 California correctional facilities that have prepared over 300 incarcerated EITs for re-entry and life beyond.


TLM and Defy sought to leverage their successes and common missions by creating a partnership, with the goal of increasing the number of participants, maximizing impact, and streamlining processes. Full Circle Fund provided:

  • Program Analysis – Interviewing key TLM and Defy members to determine the synergistic opportunities, including the applicant process, mentorship, and organizational practices.

  • Best Practice Research – Studying online resources and utilizing lessons learned from Full Circle Fund’s proprietary 15-year Impact Study to determine potential models.

  • Field Research – Engaging with participants to experience each program first-hand. This included custody events, mentoring participants, and serving as judges during pitch competitions.

  • Design Thinking Sessions – Leading ideation and decisioning exercises to generate possibilities, identify challenges, and create joint solutions.


Strategic Alliance

The Full Circle Fund team initially worked to create parameters for a TLM-Defy Ventures strategic alliance. In this newly defined program coordination, incarcerated TLM participants can apply to continue their development in the Defy Ventures program upon release from prison, thereby creating a viable pipeline of participants. Within eight months of forming the alliance, two applicants from TLM were selected to continue their professional training with Defy Ventures post release and many more are expected as the alliance continues to grow.

Impact Index Guide

With a strategic alliance quickly formed between the two organizations, the Full Circle Fund team had an opportunity to explore other ideas that were identified through the design thinking sessions. This led to the Impact Index: a self-evaluation tool designed for organizations that seek to economically empower current and former inmates. For this vision, the Full Circle Fund team developed a guide that documented objectives, potential pitfalls, a timeline, a model for self-evaluation, and related resources. The guide included a 5-step development framework for eventually designing and building a comprehensive impact index for community partners and similar organizations.

The Last Mile and Defy Ventures look to join efforts and expand statewide in California and then nationwide within the next year. Through this expansion strategy, they will grow their volunteer network, community partners, and reentry support.



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