Philly Prisons taps FastFWD startup fighting recidivism with tablets - Technical.ly Philly

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Jun. 9, 2014 8:00 am

Philly Prisons taps FastFWD startup fighting recidivism with tablets

As part of a $30,000 contract, Philadelphia Prison System inmates will be able to rent out tablets from Jail Education Solutions and use Edovo, its rewards-based educational software.

A guard tower looms over the correctional complex on State Road in Philadelphia.

(Photo courtesy of WHYY/Emma Lee)

Jail Education Solutions believes it can reduce recidivism, the rate at which incarcerated individuals return to prison, with a tablet-based educational program for inmates.

The City of Philadelphia, which in 2013 had one of the highest rates of recidivism in the state, hopes it can, too: starting this summer, Philadelphia’s prison system will be the first to use the software.

As part of a $30,000 contract, inmates at Philadelphia prisons will be able to rent out JES’s tablets and use Edovo, its rewards-based software. Edovo offers vocational and educational training, such as an Intro to Psychology course and a GED math skills course. It also offers legal information, including courtroom etiquette, and mental health information, including a course on strategies for thinking productively. Inmates are rewarded for completing courses, though CEO Brian Hill was vague about the reward system because it’s still getting worked out.

JES wants to take the “unstructured time” that inmates have — the time they might spend watching TV — and turn it into a useful experience, said Hill. They’re banking on the fact that there’s a demand for inmate programming. According to a Government Accountability Office report on federal prisoners, slightly over a third participate in some type of betterment program, with about 14 percent [PDF, page 68] enrolled in a literacy program and another 12 percent sitting on waiting lists.

Inmates in Philadelphia will be able to rent the tablets for between $2.00 and $2.50, roughly the cost of Snickers bar or a 15-minute phone call, Hill said. It’s not yet clear how many tablets Philadelphia will deploy during the pilot.

In 2012, the city’s average daily prison population was 8,777, according to a report from the Pew Charitable Trusts.

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JES is one of ten companies that completed FastFWD, the social entrepreneurship accelerator backed by a $1 million Bloomberg Philanthropies grant. The accelerator, focused on public safety, awarded $10,000 to each company, as well as mentorship, training and an opportunity to pilot their product in Philadelphia. As was announced last week, JES was one of three companies chosen by the City of Philadelphia to pilot its product.

FastFWD is run by GoodCompany Ventures, the City of Philadelphia and the Wharton Social Impact Initiative.

In the weeks to come, we’ll highlight some of the FastFWD companies. See all our coverage here.

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The business plan: Prison systems will pay a one-time setup fee and no ongoing cost, Hill said. The City of Philadelphia’s $30,000 contract is a significantly discounted cost, he said.

Customers? Philadelphia will be the first and there six other cities that are set up to launch after the roughly yearlong pilot in Philly. The Philly pilot has helped get other cities on board, Hill said, because “it’s tough for governments to take risks.” Philly’s willingness to take a chance on JES helped with that.

On his experience in FastFWD: FastFWD was useful in opening the right doors in city government, Hill said. He was also impressed with Philadelphia, which he called one of the most innovative cities he’s worked with. Prisons Commissioner Louis Giorla and Mayor Michael Nutter fully supported using the JES product, he said.

Challenges? Politically, Hill said, it’s a “nightmare” to get cities to invest in this type of programming because no one wants to spend more money on the inmate population. JES argues that it will save cities money in the long term by reducing recidivism rates.

Staff: Hill, 29, previously worked at General Mills in customer account and business planning capacities and also ran a consultancy to help nonprofits become financially sustainable. There are 10 full-time JES staffers based in Chicago, and most of the company’s founding team attended Northwestern. Hill is finishing his MBA at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management.

Location: JES will remain in Chicago, though the team will go back and forth between the two cities during the pilot. The company will also have contractors on the ground in Philly to help with hardware support and maintenance.

The (investor) ask: JES is actively raising money right now but declined to share how much it was raising.

Organizations: Jail Education Solutions
Projects: FastFWD
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