Phoenix Company Promotes Prison To Workforce Pipeline

By Christina Estes
Published: Monday, February 10, 2020 - 5:05am
Updated: Monday, February 10, 2020 - 8:29am

woman standing on stage talking
Christina Estes/KJZZ
Michelle Cirocco, chief social responsibility officer at Televerde, speaks at Arizona Good Business Summit on Jan. 22, 2020.

A Phoenix company says it's tackling the talent shortage, turning a profit and saving taxpayers money.

When Michelle Cirocco took the stage at the Arizona Good Business Summit last month, she shared how a felony conviction sent her to state prison for seven years.

“I had a scarlet letter,” she said. “And who was ever going to give me a job?”

While serving time at Perryville Prison in Goodyear, Cirocco heard about Televerde, a sales and marketing company, that runs seven engagement centers employing female inmates at prisons in Indiana and Arizona. 

Cirocco applied and was accepted into the program where she was trained as an entry level employee. Today, she is the company’s chief social responsibility officer.

“We believe honestly that if more businesses would get involved in providing prison to workforce pipeline solutions, then we can have a really, really positive impact on the world, on our communities, on the families and on this mass incarceration issue,” Cirocco said.

She told attendees at the summit presented by Local First Arizona that Televerde’s goal is to provide "life-changing opportunities for 10,000 people over the next 10 years." But Cirocco stressed companies like Honeywell, Adobe and Dell don’t do business with Televerde simply because of its purpose-driven model.

“At the end of the day, people are not just going to buy from you because you do something that’s cute or nice,” she said. “Ultimately, you have to be able to deliver results or be able to deliver a product.”

Currently, 400 women work at the prison centers. Televerde reports more than 3,000 have participated since the program started, and the recidivism rate for participants is less than 6%.

Cirocco said the women are “paid a very fair market for the work that they’re doing and it goes into several buckets,” including a portion to the state for their incarceration costs along with fines, restitution and legal fees if court ordered. She said about 30% goes into personal account at the prison commissary to cover expenses like phone calls and toiletries and the remaining approximately 40% goes into a savings account the women can access when they are released.

After they are released, Cirocco said the can access job placement services, scholarships, ongoing training and coaching through a 501(c)3 nonprofit that Televerde created.

A January 2020 study by Arizona State University’s Seidman Research Institute found participants in Televerde’s program are more likely to attain jobs, education and higher wages after being released and less likely to reoffend. The study estimated lower recidivism rates save Arizona between $6.1 million and $9.5 million annually.

Study Highlights

  • Participants get jobs after release at 44.3% higher rate.
  • Participants reoffend at a rate that’s 34.7% lower than national average within first year. 
  • Participants reoffend at a rate that’s 53.9% lower within three years.
  • Adult children of participants are 11 times less likely to be incarcerated compared to adult children of other incarcerated mothers.

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