Starting Cooperatives While Behind Bars

Shareable reports on how one major cooperative program spearheaded by prisoners in Puerto Rico is changing their lives both while they are incarcerated and once they are released.

According to the National Institute of Justice, 76.6 percent of released prisoners are rearrested within five years in the United States.

Compare that with the recidivism rate of prisoners who have participated in the world’s first prisoner-organized-and-owned cooperative in Puerto Rico: Cooperativa de Servicios ARIGOS. Only six percent of participants were rearrested in the past ten years. The general recidivism rate in Puerto Rico is 50 percent.

The cooperative was established by prisoners who were looking for a market for their crafts, according to PolicyLink. The group successfully lobbied then governor of Puerto Rico, Sila Maria Calderon, to change legislation to allow those convicted of crimes to participate in cooperatives.

This one hits home for us. Educating folks who are incarcerated about co-ops, and their potential to alleviate some of the roadblocks that they face upon release, is one of the greatest motivations for the Cooperative Enterprise Class that we teach at the Franklin County House of Corrections.

In addition to lowering recidivism rates, these prisoner-led initiatives engage incarcerated people with programming that build business skills, develop cooperative management techniques, cultivate an understanding of the economy, and extrapolates what real democracy can look like. We need more examples like this!

Image via GEO’s article “The World’s First Prisoner Worker Co-op.”

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