Frequently Asked Questions

Step Out’s mission is to aid and empower women with significant barriers to employment to accomplish transformative self change, to move beyond imposed inequality, and to find meaningful work yielding sustainable income. Barriers including incarceration, housing instability, substance abuse, mental illness and little/no job skills. To that end, we will provide community-based programming which emphasizes wellness, personal protection, and financial/entrepreneurial skills. Our larger purpose is to contribute to the alleviation of suffering from poverty and oppression, and to the building of peaceful and just communities.

  • Step Out offers a microenterprise training course for justice affected women, called the LIFE program. LIFE is the acronym for Lifelong Information for Entrepreneurs, which is a 64-hour, trauma-informed training program created by Mercy Corps Northwest. The curriculum incorporates business plan development, employment skill-building, creation of a transition plan from incarceration, and practical tools for health, nutrition and exercise self-management. Integrated throughout the course is a focus on goal setting and action planning. The classes are based on a learning framework that builds on emotional regulation and peer learning. The program has been extremely successful in Oregon, where it has reduced recidivism up to 50%, saving the state millions of dollars while laying the groundwork for the participants to have gainful employment and successful reentry into their communities.

  • Vermont is fortunate to have two prominent organizations that work with incarcerated women to improve their chances of success outside of prison. Mercy Connections has a well-established mentoring program that partners women who are soon to be released with women from the community to support them as they transition. [Completely separately they offer business planning courses for women.] Vermont Works for Women offers a culinary job training program inside prison, preparing participants to be food service workers.

    What Step Out offers is a comprehensive approach to healing the disadvantages that these women have faced by providing employment and life-skills while nurturing their self-esteem by giving them tools to create their own businesses as entrepreneurs. The 7+ month program is trauma-informed, and created through a lens of gender and racial equity. It was specifically designed to improve employment and personal health success to strengthen both women's mental and physical health and to reduce recidivism. Contemporary definitions of trauma and the neurophysiology of trauma informed the LIFE curriculum, for example the relationship between the “thinking brain” to access choice and decision-making, and the “survival brain” which is reactive in the current moment. LIFE aims to embolden the thinking brain to dream of the future by offering the tools to build skills for sustainable life-planning and healthy responses in order to overcome barriers to survival. While the curriculum itself can be and has been scaled for incarcerated male populations, LIFE was designed with incarcerated women in mind.

  • Each of the current offerings for women in Vermont’s prison is qualitatively different, with each meeting the needs of different women: vocational training; mentorship; and entrepreneurism. We see this as a cooperative way to strengthen the likelihood of success. There is room for more.

  • Most notably, the results of the program and the way we track them. Data is gathered to ascertain how effectively this program sets up participants for success after release. A formative and summative evaluation that provides insights in order to refine the program, monitor progress of women once they reenter our communities, and evaluate program success through a variety of approaches. This includes but is not limited to examination of DOC data to assess program effects of recidivism and structured qualitative evaluation interviews with those who participated and a comparison group of those who did not.

  • Incarcerated women are often natural entrepreneurs, willing to take initiative and take risks. In the program, we facilitate activities to help them see their own strengths. Society is made better by positive contributions from participants, and the LIFE program affords them varied opportunities to establish self-sufficiency, resilience, sense of agency, create networks, and economic stability. Additionally, by reducing recidivism by up to 50%, the program has the potential to save the State millions of dollars by avoiding reincarceration.

  • Upon release, participants who have completed the requirements of the LIFE program receive $500 incentive to use on immediate transitional needs like interview clothing, down payment on utilities, gas to visit children and a variety of other needs. The graduate submits a proposal of how she will use her $500 and we provide gift cards. In addition, the women are provided information on and access to credit building and small business loans, grants, and credit coaching. After finishing the class, we encourage graduates to return to help teach the curriculum and mentor new students. Through the LIFE program, women identify goals and set expectations for themselves in order to work toward developing employment skills. Over the long term, some seek to start businesses. A larger number of students learn how to find work that has meaning and is suited to their strengths. The graduates learn how to get a job, keep a job and improve with the job to move up within the organization.

  • One only has to Google “entrepreneurship as a reentry strategy” to find the popularity of foundations and prison reformers promoting entrepreneurship programs like LIFE. These programs are emerging as a tool and as an economic opportunity strategy. Those most recently released from incarceration face a plethora of challenges that threaten financial wellbeing, from employer discirimination, housing restrictions or even high fees associated with parole and probation. Aspen Institute’s Prison to Proprietorship Report highlights the LIFE program in Oregon and found that participants were 41% less likely to recidivate than a control group. Every year this class improves upon this percentage up to as high as 69% are less likely to recidivate. For those with prior or multiple convictions, it becomes that much harder to secure gainful employment and that much easier to recidivate. Many women in Vermont return to prison over 5-7 times, because they haven’t learned to live any other way. LIFE program integrates various health, communication skills and emotional regulation skills that empower women to be themselves, believe in themselves and their abilities. The various skills afforded to participants of the LIFE program help them adopt an entrepreneurial mindset, to focus on their own strengths, and to utilize creative problem solving skills in order to provide economic stability for themselves and their family. In doing so they will reshape their perspective on their own role in society and they will see the power in the sustainability of their efforts to create positive change for themselves, their greater community and the economies within those very communities.

  • Like many programs for inmates, a primary evaluative measure will be recidivism. But the Step Out program has an additional comprehensive evaluation component from a 3rd party researcher from the University of Vermont. From the evaluator’s proposal:

    “The goal of the evaluation is to document the experiences of participants in the Step Out program: to what extent and how has the program prepared them for success after release from incarceration. It will be both a formative and summative evaluation, providing insights and recommendations for improvement as well as appraising the overall effectiveness and merit of the program.”

  • Pay For Success(PFS) is a method to outcomes-oriented funding which has offered fresh solutions for how to most efficiently and effectively give funds to social good. PFS connects resources to results; the payments for delivery of services to the success of verifiable outcomes and progress. Historically, PFS has been used to fund health interventions, criminal justice reform, job training and early education where the desired results (better health, lower recidivism rates, sustainable employment, elementary school readiness) occur over time. In PFS financing, first called “social impact bonds”, service providers deliver high quality programs designed to improve lives and prevent future issues. Typically, mission-driven investors provide the start up costs of facilitating these programs. If the previously decided upon goals are met then investors are repaid, generally by the government, with a return. This process generates incentive to facilitate sustainable operational changes that lead to trackable improvements in communities and people’s lives.