Overcoming the walls that constrain us: The role of entrepreneurship education programs in prison

Holger Patzelt, Trenton A. Williams, Dean A. Shepherd

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

52 Scopus citations


Although the number of prisoners has risen globally, educational efforts to help them return to society as productive members have yielded only mixed results. We propose that entrepreneurship education might be particularly valuable for prisoners because selfemployment as an occupational career path can help overcome potential employers' discriminatory attitudes toward ex-prisoners, and by developing an entrepreneurial mindset, individuals whose career paths have been terminated can begin to form an attitudinal foundation from which to rebuild a future. Using a multiple case study method to analyze 12 participants of a European prison entrepreneurship educational program, we find that without a "personal agency mind-set - namely, the set of assumptions, belief systems, and self-regulation capabilities through which individuals intentionally exercise influence (i.e., act) as opposed to residing as a discrete entity (i.e., acted upon) - prisoners were unable to make sense of the past or orient themselves toward the future, both of which are necessary to identify and develop opportunities and ultimately to persist with an entrepreneurship educational program. Rather than being an outcome of an entrepreneurship education program, recognizing a potential opportunity was a critical input to successful completion. We found that recognizing a potential opportunity is an important vehicle for transforming prisoners' attitudes toward entrepreneurship, imprisonment, and other individuals.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)587-620
Number of pages34
JournalAcademy of Management Learning and Education
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 1 2014

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management


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