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The Gap Program is one of the few programs in the country that takes a comprehensive and holistic approach to preparing incarcerated women for release. In addition, The Gap Program supports graduates post-release by acting as a bridge to housing, jobs and other resources. While the re-entry program aims to reduce recidivism, the overarching goal is for women to be provided with the tools to not only avoid returning to prison, but to lead joyful, meaningful and productive lives.

The Gap Program offers classes to incarcerated women who are within a year of release and to those women/teen women who are victims of Domestic Violence. We work with 50-60 students each year, who are selected from women incarcerated throughout the Washington, DC correction system. Those who are accepted into the The Gap Program are transferred to the Correctional Treatment Facility (CTF) where classes take place.

The Gap Program currently runs two classes per year, each one lasting 5 months with over 250 hours of coursework.  The program includes entrepreneurship, workforce readiness, trauma informed addiction and extensive cognitive behavioral work, including the nationally recognized programs Thinking for a Change and Seeking Safety. Participants collaborate with instructors to create business plans, exit plans for re-entry into the community and relapse prevention plans.

Workforce Readiness

In the workforce readiness portion of the course, students participate in an intensive employability training coursework. This portion of the program is very interactive and includes résumé preparation, job search skills/tips, case studies and role playing.  Additionally, while life skills training is a critical component, the classroom instruction and materials are specifically designed to foster a spirit of independence and initiative. Goal setting and decision-making skills are vital components of the learning experience.

Over the course of the entrepreneurship part of the program, students learn the nuts and bolts of starting a micro-business. Topics include marketing strategi es, preparing a business plan, daily business management, and financing a business. All participants are required to write and present a polished business plan at the conclusion of the program. By completing the multi-disciplinary entrepreneurship curriculum, participants develop the financial literacy, interpersonal skills, and knowledge needed to create a micro-enterprise post release, or to be a better-informed employee.  Post release, The Gap Program graduates are eligible to participate in The Gap Program pitch competition, where they present their business to a panel of entrepreneurs for a chance to win cash prizes. Graduates who compete in the pitch competition are also eligible to apply for up to $1,000 in financing for their business.

CBT/Trauma-Informed Addiction

While The Gap Program advocates for second chances, for the vast majority of our students, they have never had any chances. Over 80%were victims of childhood sexual abuse and over 70% were involved in abusive relationships as adults, leading to substance abuse and crime. To be successful employees, business owners, mothers and members of society, it is essential that they are able to address their trauma and addiction. Accordingly, one of the components of The Gap Program are classes that include addiction, trauma and cognitive behavioral programming.

Impact

With regard to impact, context is important. Most women leave prison unprepared to address the social, economic and personal challenges that led to incarceration. While The Gap Program advocates for second chances, the vast majority of students never had a first chance: 82% were victims of childhood sexual abuse, 80%+ were involved in abusive relationships as adults, leading to substance abuse and crime. The vast majority suffers from mental illness. Yet, only 14% of women in D.C. prisons receive any programming. The limited rehabilitation programs that do exist focus on males and are of dubious efficacy.

Equipping women transitioning from prison with skills to create a small business or secure jobs, gain economic stability, and support their families in turn positively impacts the community by empowering the most impoverished and marginalized demographic, rejuvenates the local workforce, lessens strain on local resources, and reduces crime.

Our program reduces recidivism among women released from prisons –less than 6% of graduates return to prison 50%+ nationwide. By empowering them to become employed or self-employed, and thus helping to reduce the rate of recidivism, we alleviate the burden on the community by eliminating costs of incarceration and adding self-sustaining, contributing individuals back into society. The Gap Program has proven that with organizational structure and funding success will follow.

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