Jay-Z backs startup using tech to keep poor out of jail – Tech News

Reform advocates say the US justice system disproportionately keeps low-risk defendants who cannot pay bail behind bars while awaiting trial – especially African-Americans – even for minor offences. — Reuters

BATH, Maine: Rap mogul Jay-Z is among the investors backing a US technology startup helping to free defendants who can not afford bail, amid moves to reform.

After receiving US $ 3mil (RM11.74mil) in funding, a “decarceration” phone app called Promise, aims to secure the release of poor people.

“The people who are unaware that more than 70% of the people in jails have not been convicted of anything,” said Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins, the entrepreneur who co-founded the California-based business with a social mission.

“They are awaiting trial and are locked up simply because they lack funds for bail … Our goal is to use technology to create a scale to keep many people out of jail,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The United States has the world's highest prison rates, with more than 2 million people at a cost, according to the Prison Policy Initiative, a Massachusetts-based think tank.

Pressure for justice reform is mounting, with a shift from tough-on-the-crash, which increased incarceration rates, to reducing spending on jails, swollen with the poor, mentally ill and people with substance abuse problems.

Reform advocates say the system disproportionately keeps low-risk defendants who can not pay bail behind bars while awaiting trial – especially African-Americans – even for minor offenses.

“We are increasingly alarmed by the injustice in our criminal justice system,” said Jay-Z, or Shawn Carter, in a statement of his Roc Nation entertainment company.

“Money, time and lives are wasted with the current policies. It's time for an innovative and progressive technology that offers sustainable solutions to tough problems. “

The US prison population has been arrested for the 1990s due to longer sentencing for drug offenses, leading many to push for reduced prison terms for nonviolent crimes.

New York and Chicago launched programs in 2015 to release without bonding of detainees under supervision of supervision until their cases are resolved.

New Jersey introduced similar reforms in 2017, leading to a 20% drop in its jail population, according to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), a rights group which is working on reform with a total of 38 states.


The cash bail system in the United States, which has been abolished in many countries, requires people who have been arrested to give the money.

Defenders who can not afford bail can sit in jail for months 25,000 bail bond shops to post bail for them.

The bail industry makes a US $ 2bil (RM7.83bil) profit each year, the ACLU says, with users paying a typical 10%, non-refundable fee, often in instalments with high interest rates.

Promise assesses a defendant's needs, then develops an individual care plan, downloaded to their phone, which monitors and supports them.

Users receive reminders about the court, and procedures for court-ordered drug and alcohol treatments, said Ellis-Lamkins.

“I am incredibly hopeful that our company will help to keep people out of jail,” she said, adding that lawsuits to Promise, which aims to be ready for use in May.

“I have not met anyone who thinks the bail system is working.” African Americans and Hispanics made up about 32% of the US population but 56% of all incarcerated people in 2015, according to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People rights group.

Udi Ofer, who heads ACLU's Campaign for Smart Justice, was cautious about Promise.

“People are complicated and can not be understood based solely on an algorithm or a pre-programmed response,” he said.

“The most important thing is to provide people alternatives to cash bail in the way that is supportive and that leads to the elimination of wealth-based incarceration.” – Reuters

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