Decarceration has become more than just a chant as criminal justice reform advocates seek to build a thriving business sector to challenge corporations profiting from mass incarceration.
The Decarceration Fund has been established by advocates as a counter-funding model to support entrepreneurs and private businesses that empower system-impacted people, wrote Chris Bentley, managing principal of the fund, in an ImpactPHL Perspectives guest column.
“Together, these efforts are joining the prison reform movement by investing and supporting highly innovative enterprises working to disrupt the criminal justice system ethically,” said Bentley.
There are more than 4,000 corporations that profit from the U.S criminal justice system through the private prison industry, prison labor and predatory pricing, according to the article.
To combat the injustices in the criminal justice system, the fund project has three main goals: 1) Prevent Entry—reduce the number of people going into the system, 2) Reduce suffering—reduce the negative impact on families and people impacted by the system, 3) End the Cycle—support a successful transition out of the system.
“As we evaluate each of these areas, we can identify many individual issues that lead to poor outcomes,” said Bentley.” He cites issues such as: addiction, legal costs, employment, and housing.
Private-sector organizations are conducting studies to identify and develop assistance for entrepreneurs and investors. For example, Good Company Ventures will partner with NGO organizations and academics to develop a “Social Opportunity Re-framing” on the criminal justice space. It will help divide decarceration into actionable target segments.
Another example: the American Family Institute for Corporate and Social Impact partnered with Village Capital on a project to study entrepreneurial solutions to the challenges that face systems-impacted people and their families, reported the article. “The project focuses on defining ‘Criminal and Civil Justice Tech centered explicitly on exploring how technology can potentially reduce racial and economic disparities in the criminal and civil system, while taking a human-centered approach to helping people,” Bentley said.
Some companies have already been firm to support the mission of change within the criminal justice space. The company Pigeonly was founded by a returning citizen. The business designed a product to reduce phone call costs for incarcerated federal people, without selling into the prison system. R3 Score is a financial analysis tool that “de-risks” those who have criminal histories. It provides information on the individual’s capabilities and strengths, which helps those individuals maintain employment, according to the article.
Vonzella, a public benefit corporation, has launched a pilot bail-bond insurance product for lower-income communities in Minneapolis. It has a monthly membership fee in exchange for pre-paid bail coverage. Other innovators have developed Uptrust, a communication tool to address non-compliance issues for defendants. It helps people stay in touch with their parole or probation office or public defenders, said the article.
The De-Carceration Fund is aiming to provide investment opportunities in innovative nonprofits that support criminal justice reform to build a strong business sector that will improve the lives of those who have been impacted by the system. “Building a supportive ecosystem to enable this new business sector to succeed will take backing from policymakers, nonprofits, investors and service providers and is critical to providing entrepreneurs with the opportunity to thrive,” said Bentley.