LEAP begins with an orientation session open to any woman scheduled to be released from a Florida State Prison in 12-18 months. Those who are interested complete an application and interview process and must demonstrate their willingness to change and to do the work. The Florida Department of Corrections transfers the women who are selected to the Homestead Correctional Institution here in South Florida where the classes take place.
Over an eight-month, 300-hour long program the women learn essential life skills. In addition to the widely-used prison curriculum “Thinking for a Change,” LEAP students also take up journaling and meditation, explore their personal strengths, talk with experts on domestic violence, addiction, co-dependency and learn employability skills and how to start their own business from a Barry University professor in the Entrepreneurial Institute of the Andrea School of Business. Most significantly, during the intensive program, students learn self-acceptance, often for the first time.
Mentors play an important role for each prisoner. They assist during the formal program, for example, helping with research for a business plan. Then they assist after their mentees are released, providing professional support, and often friendship, as LEAP graduates transition back to society.
Post-release, LEAP acts as a bridge to services, housing, and employment.
While learning essential life and employment skills, LEAP’s students really learn how to be self-sufficient, self-confident, and self-caring after they leave prison. This has positive ripple effects throughout their families and communities. Ultimately, the LEAP program helps its graduates transcend the circumstances that landed them in prison. In fact, LEAP’s recidivism rate (percentage who return to prison) is just 6% – compared to two-thirds of ex-prisoners nationally (2005 study, Bureau of Justice Statistics, DOJ).
The power to change, the power to make money, the power to do good.