LIFE Prison Reentry Program for Women Prisoners

“I have a much brighter future as a result of your class, I wish you could expand it so everyone who wants it could take it.  I think it is the single most important program CCCF has that will help paroling inmates achieve success.”

– LIFE participant, May 2011

The LIFE prison reentry program addresses self-employment and microenterprise development after release for women prisoners.

LIFE operates in two facilities, Coffee Creek Correctional Facility (CCCF) in Wilsonville, OR, and Washington Corrections Center for Women (WCCW) in Gig Harbor, WA. Students learn important skills for life, business, and a successful reentry to the community.  LIFE helps our students to create productive lives after release, and to establish self-sufficiency and economic stability for themselves and their families.  MCNW hopes to extend LIFE nationwide to both male and female populations by partnering with other microenterprise or reentry organizations working with the incarcerated population.

Successful reentry after incarceration benefits both the individual and our community. It reduces new crime and victimization, law enforcement costs, court costs and of course, the high cost of re-incarceration. Re-establishing a productive life also promotes economic self-sufficiency which minimizes the cost of reliance on state and county social service systems. These benefits, along with productive employment, will extend directly to the children and immediate families of these former prisoners.


MCNW has established a business education program in the prison, targeting inmates within 18 to 24 months of release who will be paroled to communities in Oregon.  This time frame allows for building a solid working relationship leading to curriculum completion. Education focuses on business planning and other skills required for typical interactions of a small business. MCNW staff delivers the classes with help from community experts and volunteers, and even our experienced students. This approach results in a network of contacts for our participants after release.

LIFE Plus: Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Support of LIFE

In 2010, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Local Funding Partnership program provided a 4 year grant to Mercy Corps Northwest and its partner, Multnomah County Health Department and the Program Design and Evaluation Services. The grant funded the expansion of the LIFE program to incorporate health promotion content into the curriculum, provide bridge services at the Reentry Transition Center (RTC) for LIFE participants releasing to the Portland metro area, and to provide support for extending health education and support to other participants at the RTC. This support allows us to address issues around health promotion and maintenance directly with this vulnerable population, and to indirectly provide the individual and community support which undergirds a healthful environment and choices.

Curriculum Components

  • Financial literacy
  • Business plan development
  • Soft skills (conflict resolution, goal setting, time management)
  • Planning for transition from prison to open society

Additional LIFE Components

Providing a bridge of support is one of the keys to MCNW’S approach in LIFE. Clients work with staff during incarceration, transition and after release as they work to implement their business plan. There is significant recruitment of community resources to support the individuals, through the Reentry Transition Center and the member of ROAR (Reentry Organizations and Resources).

MCNW also provides an innovative matched savings program tailored to State of Oregon inmates. This program encourages both the fiscal discipline of saving toward a goal, and the development of resources for successful reentry. Students must demonstrate consistent attendance, complete homework, create and execute a savings plan based on their current earnings and needs, and complete both a transition plan and a business plan. Once they have filled these requirements, the students are eligible for a $500 grant for transition needs after they have released.


  • Successful re-integration into society
  • Job creation and economic self-sufficiency
  • Reduced reliance on social welfare programs
  • Prevention of further criminal activity and recidivism
  • Most of all, bettering of the lives of these individuals, their families and communities

Pilot Location:  Coffee Creek Correctional Facility in Wilsonville, OR

CCCF is Oregon’s only correctional facility for women. MCNW works with Portland Community College and the staff of CCCF to provide entrepreneurial training at the institution.This builds upon existing vocational training programs in optometrics, cosmetology, and barista instruction. In addition, many women receive training in plant management, welding, painting as part of their jobs in the institution. LIFE’s training in financial literacy and business planning complements these vocational training programs and promotes the individuals’ potential for self-employment in their fields.

Why Did We Choose to Pilot “LIFE” in a Women’s Facility like CCCF ?

  • Incarcerated women typically maintain closer ties to their children and extended families.
  • Familial and community ties favorably affect success of inmates’ employment plans.
  • Funds used in the program have a higher impact per dollar because positive results directly impact the families of these inmates.
  • Support including stable housing, social integration and mentorship create an optimistic atmosphere for implementing well-designed self-employment plans.


This project is supported by the joint efforts the organizations listed below.

Mercy Corps Northwest
43 SW Naito Parkway
Portland, OR  97204
(503) 896-5070
© 2014 Mercy Corps Northwest
a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization
Federal Tax ID #93-1315010