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Crowdfunding for Social Good
Devin D. Thorpe
Devin Thorpe

Jail Education Solutions Named a Finalist in Gratitude Awards Competition; Winners to Be Chosen at SOCAP

Jail Education Solutions, led by Brian Hill, has been named as one of nine finalists in the 2014 Gratitude Awards from the Gratitude Network to be awarded at SOCAP this coming week in San Francisco. The finalists were chosen from among 32 semi-finalists, who were chosen from among nearly 150 applicants. To learn more about the awards and SOCAP, see our story in Forbes. You can read all our coverage of the Gratitude Awards, including profiles of all nine finalists here.

Four winners will be announced on Thursday, September 4, 2014. We obtained a copy of the application from Jail Education Solutions so we could share it with you below:

Please describe your venture:

We focus on increasing education access for individuals in the criminal justice system. Our tablet-based system enables self-driven learning and exploration in k-12/GED education, college classes, employment, community resources, treatment, and legal information. Our ultimate goal is to provide tools that will help formerly incarcerated individuals succeed upon release.

What is the problem are you solving and why is this important?

Over 50 percent of inmates return to jail a short time after being released (recidivism). This drives the corrections budget to over $74B and burdens communities, families, and taxpayers. Investment in inmate education leads to reduced recidivism (43% in aggregate) and lower taxpayer liability (400%+ return by year 3), however, programming is extremely limited because because it is politically challenging, operationally difficult, and expensive in the traditional model. Further, current programming does not meet inmate demand.

What is your solution and business model?

JES helps meet and expand inmate demand for edification by offering an incentive based learning platform that rewards inmates for engaging in educational, vocational, and treatment oriented programs. Benefits not only include transferable achievements like a GED, college credit, and time off their sentence, but also short term rewards like improved entertainment options on demand. Because JES rents the devices directly to inmates (who spend over $2B on discretionary items annually), there is no cost to the tax payer making this a politically feasible and even desirable solution for correctional leadership and elected officials. JES is further building in sponsorship opportunities and other ways to earn the tablet so that all can have access to such a vast set of resources.

What is unique patentable, or otherwise not seen elsewhere about your venture?

The custom incentive based platform, the secure tablet enclosure/case, and some of the educational content offered all represent unique IP of JES.

Please describe who your customers are and how you know they want your product?

We have two customers: the facilities and the inmates. Facilities have expressed their interest through signed agreements and funding from some of the largest institutions in the US. They see this as an incredible way to bring productive activities that increase safety and meet inmate demand while not burdening their budget. Inmates have also expressed their interest in similar offerings through engagement with costly and logistically challenging correspondence courses, long waiting lists for prison courses, as well as through high purchase rates of digital songs and other entertainment options in certain facilities.

In which country does the target population your company serves reside?

United States

Please comment on the strength of the venture’s leadership:

With my General Mills sales and marketing I know I can sell this into jails. Freya, former Chief of staff to now Mayor Deblasio, has extensive experience working with this underserved population and will guide content curation to create the most value for inmates. On the technology front, Mike is all things hardware. His experience in setting up secure networks like he did for Caterpillar and the banking sector will be critical for this high security environment. Igor as the chief architect on key projects for Groupon, Sears, and more over 15 years, reveals brilliant development and team leadership skills.

Please describe the impact your company will have or is having, the way that you measure your impact, and the scale you plan to reach?

We are committed to determining effectiveness in relation to a range of indicators. We are partnering with the Urban Institute to conduct a multi-site process and outcome evaluation of our programming. Working with the Urban Institute, we have identified pilot sites where the tablets can be studied in several comparable housing units/facilities. The study will include a control group that does not receive a tablet, and two experimental groups – one that receives tablets for free, and one that rents the devices. In addition to analyzing user engagement, the study would include a pre- and post- survey component and include administrative data. Following release, researchers will track and evaluate outcomes related to employment, education, and recidivism, among others. We plan to scale across the US and be financially available for any size correctional facility.

How is your organization innovative? Have collaborations with others enabled that innovation?

We’re innovative in two key ways, first our platform and second our financial model. We’ve developed a unique incentivized educational structure that encourages learning through access to earned entertainment content. By engaging in educational courses they personally select, participants earn credits they can spend on programs such as music, games and movies. Regarding funding, while some facilities will choose to fund the tablets through their own budgets or grants, JES is designed to be self-sustaining at no cost to the taxpayer. The programs were specifically tailored for our direct customers – incarcerated individuals. By using a rental model, we ensure that our content remains relevant and effective, and is free from the uncertainties of outside funding. Our collaborations inmates and experts in Philadelphia, Illinois, California and NYC prisons/jails have been extremely instrumental in driving this targeted innovation.

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