Founders: Brian Hill and Andy Brimhall
Company Description: Educational content platform delivered via tablets to jail and prison inmates.
Company Site: http://jaileducationsolutions.com/ ; Twitter
Date of Interview: May 2015
Brian Hill is the co-founder of Jail Education Solutions, a social enterprise delivering educational content to jail and prisons via their technology platform, Edovo. He believes in bringing together government and private sector solutions to make large-scale social impacts through patience, adaptation and commitment to mission.
On the problems:
Brian describes a typical jail as a crowded space with people milling around between sleep and daytime television. “Well no wonder this doesn’t work! We’re not getting any results out of this. There are some brilliant people behind bars – some that shouldn’t be there and some that should – and many who are there because of a mistake that many of us have also made in our lives. We have to figure out how to use this important time to help people make changes in their lives. We’re really arresting development. They come out worse off than when they went in.”
“Incarceration is a serious social issue. We have to figure out what we think corrections are supposed to be and then figure out how we can financially put incentives in place to get it where it should be.”
“It really comes down to what Americans see as the purpose of corrections. If the purpose is to promote public safety and get dangerous people off the street, then we’ve got way too many people in jail. If the purpose is to be angry and punish people and screw up their lives, then we’re doing really well. We incarcerate in America more than any other country by far. We have gone off the rails. We are spending far too much money and damaging future generations. We got tougher and tougher on crime but we actually got dumber and dumber.”
Brian says that in his perfect world of corrections, out of 100 inmates, he would send 30 to proper mental health care facilities that are better equipped to provide specialized care; 50 would just be allowed to go home with limited monitoring and resources; and the other 20 are the ones we should actually be concerned about.
On why jail?:
There are many different aspects of the corrections system, but Jail Education Solutions has chosen to primarily focus on the jail population. Brian explains that jail is an interim pre-trial holding facility which means it has the highest volume and turnover. Apparently Cook County cycles through 70K jail inmates every year.
“That’s just a lot of people that you can reach and touch, and hopefully change their trajectory. In jails, your impact is much broader. A prison is only turning over 10% of their population on an annual basis. From a practical perspective, we’d need a lot more content in prison; and from an impact perspective, we can reach a lot more people in jails.”
On monitoring impacts:
To monitor and measure changes in the population, Jail Education Solutions studies key drivers that decrease recidivism (a person’s relapse into criminal behavior) such as gains to education and literacy. Less obvious, are behavioral changes, such as increase in optimism, which has a high impact on decision making.
Brian says that the “most effective methodology to change inmate outcomes in the long term and decrease recidivism is through cognitive behavioral therapy” so that inmates can practice going through decision-making scenarios.
“In jail you’re not making real life decisions. We can use the platform to gauge how their decision-making changes over time and how it impacts recidivism and job placement when they get out.”
Tracking that kind of progress and outcome takes time. So “in the short term we’re really looking at engagement, user experience and education attainment. It’s still early. It’s an exciting time for us.”
On the power of the individual:
Brian says that some of the problems stem from misconceptions within the general population, but also within the corrections system. “There’s this perception that these people will never change and won’t want to do anything differently.That’s absolutely wrong.”
Brian describes how when inmates are given access to their content, without any guidance or direction, they usually gravitate towards the most meaningful content. “They’re going towards parenting, cognitive behavioral therapy, GED, and literacy content. That’s been amazing to see. They went for the meat right away. This is them deciding for themselves. If I could hand select it for them, this is where I’d want them to go.”
“Because the problem is so challenging, we’ve first focused on giving the power to the individual to make a change. Even with all the cards stacked against them, we do believe in the individual and that they want to make changes when given the opportunity.”
“Our ultimate goal is to help people. These are our community members living in a different location for a short time. They’re coming home to us in our neighborhoods.”
“Our business works in corrections, but it also works post-corrections. Our business does not depend upon people being in jail, and that’s very important. We want to make sure our incentives are never aligned with having more people in jail.”
“There were opportunities for us to go after faster money that would’ve jeopardized our mission, but we didn’t. We are now highly respected and seen as a leader. People trust us.”
Brian understands the reality and the breadth of the problem he’s gotten involved in, but is hopeful about the positive impacts they’ve already been able to make in the system. “Government moves slowly; jails move slower. But when we turn on a tablet in a facility we make history because we’ve put more content in the hand of an inmate than has ever been available.”