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MIT Business School Collaborates with Leon County on Re-entry Programs
for People Transitioning From Incarceration
Cambridge, Mass., May 5, 2020— A team of MBA students from MIT’s Sloan School of Management is collaborating with Leon County, Florida officials to evaluate reentry programs for people transitioning from incarceration as well as identifying best practices and innovative models for the reentry process.
The collaboration is made possible through USA Lab, a course offered for graduate students across MIT, drawing primarily from MIT Sloan and the Department of Urban Studies and Planning. Through collaboration with community organizations, many in rural and small-town settings, course faculty hope to deepen MIT students’ understanding of America’s diverse economic, cultural, and social characteristics while helping students apply their managerial and leadership skills to pressing community issues. In addition to Leon County, USA Lab is running projects this year in Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, and South Carolina.
Approximately 700 people return from a correctional institution to Leon County each year. Of that total, 25% reoffend and are reincarcerated within three years of release. The overall cycle of incarceration not only impacts the offender but has multi-generational economic and social implications for families and the community.
The four MBA students working with Leon County have researched strategies to develop a skilled workforce and support stable, healthy families and safe communities. Such programs reduce the demand for the costliest public services, that of criminal justice corrections and physical and behavioral healthcare. Work on the MIT project began in February and will continue into May 2020. The team planned initially on spending two weeks working on-site; due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the four students have pivoted to virtual meetings, with the support of Leon County personnel.
“To host, even if just virtually, some of the world’s greatest young minds from MIT is truly an honor,” says Leon County Commission Chairman Bryan Desloge. “History tells us that problems such as reincarceration aren’t new, and therefore these issues will require new perspectives and new thought. We are pleased to be learning from and sharing with these students how we can change the trajectory for people transitioning from incarceration.”
"As a learning organization who understands the value of human capital, Leon County now has the opportunity to be both a teacher and a student for the talented MIT group," says Leon County Administrator Vince S. Long. "We are very proud to remotely host MIT for the summer and engage some of our nation's brightest minds to serve and strengthen our community."
The four MBA students making up the Leon County team are slated to graduate from MIT Sloan in 2021. They are:
Kate Ballinger holds a BA in Economics from Georgetown University. Prior to attending MIT Sloan, she worked as a management consultant at BCG specializing in social impact consulting with non-profit and private sector clients on topics such as financial inclusion, gender equity, higher education and refugee support. After graduation, Ballinger hopes to work for an education technology start-up with a focus on reskilling and upskilling workers who are or will be less advantaged as the economy continues to transition to such technologies as automation, robotics and artificial intelligence.
Nick Brenner holds a BS in Business Administration from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Before enrolling at MIT Sloan, he served as a strategy consultant at Accenture where he worked on regional economic and workforce development in the Midwest, as well as talent, organization, and operating strategy for health insurance clients. He is currently studying economic and workforce development, with a special focus on how technology and the future of work impacts marginalized groups. After graduation he hopes to work for a public office or in philanthropy in the Midwest with a focus on increasing economic mobility for marginalized communities.
Priscilla Liu earned her BA from UC Berkeley in Economics. Before attending MIT Sloan, she worked in venture philanthropy and impact investing with a focus on funding and advising social enterprises that create job training and employment opportunities for individuals who face the highest barriers to work including those with histories of incarceration, homelessness, substance abuse, and/or mental illness. Following graduation she hopes to work at an impact-first investing firm that addresses economic development in regions that face high rates of poverty.
Killian Murphy holds undergraduate degrees in Mechanical Engineering and Business from the University College London and the London School of Economics. Prior to attending MIT Sloan, he worked in consulting at McKinsey & Co., primarily working with corporations and funds on growth strategies, market diligences and operational improvements. He is currently studying how innovation can be used to reduce inequalities in the market place. After graduation he would like to work as a consultant helping large corporations develop programs to help communities which have been historically neglected through investment in innovation.
“People often do not have the opportunity to step outside of their circles – whether they are academic, professional, or geographic – to understand the varying perspectives and experiences of individuals in very different regions of the country,” says Liu. “USA Lab addresses this. Our project with Leon County has given us the opportunity to directly learn from dozens of formerly incarcerated individuals and community leaders that have experienced firsthand the multi-pronged issues surrounding workforce reentry and criminal justice. The stories of resilience and trailblazing are inspiring, and the opportunity to work alongside the Leon County team led to thought-provoking discussions around workforce reentry that I’ll carry into my future endeavors in this field. I’m grateful for and in awe of the time and effort that the Leon County team committed to this project – from organizing and joining meetings with more than 50 community stakeholders to providing ongoing feedback on our work – even amid managing the county’s emergency responses to COVID-19.”
Adds Ballinger, “You can read about the challenges that exist in reentry and recidivism around the U.S., but listening to people sharing their own experiences with us firsthand was so much more powerful. It is easy to be daunted by the immense challenges that are built in the system, but we were able to find glimmers of hope and explore what can be done to overcome these challenges.”
Now in its third year, USA Lab, a semester-long course, was developed through a collaboration involving MIT Sloan’s Good Companies, Good Jobs Initiative and Action Learning program; and the MIT Mens et Manus America Initiative.
“USA Lab is designed to benefit both MIT students and the community organizations that host them,” says Barbara Dyer, Senior Lecturer at MIT Sloan and Executive Director of the Good Companies, Good Jobs Initiative. “Host organizations gain fresh insights on pressing issues facing their communities, and students hone critical skills such as impact investing, market analysis, and strategy development, along with empathetic listening, all of which make them better business leaders.”
USA Lab was among ten higher education courses honored with the Aspen Institute’s 2019 Ideas Worth Teaching Award.
About the MIT Sloan School of Management The MIT Sloan School of Management is where smart, independent leaders come together to solve problems, create new organizations, and improve the world. Learn more at http://mitsloan.mit.edu/
About Leon County
Leon County is home to Florida’s capitol, Tallahassee, and is known both nationally and locally as a county government committed to listening to the citizens we serve, solving our problems, and shaping our future. Learn more at http://www.LeonCountyFL.gov
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