Ed. Note: This post is part of the Commerce in the Community series highlighting the work of community leaders and organizations that are strengthening the middle class and providing ladders of opportunity for all Americans.
Below is an interview with Brian Hill, co-founder of Jail Education Solutions (JES). Prior to starting JES, Brian worked for General Mills and served as a business consultant. He received his undergraduate degree from Brigham Young University in Provo, UT and is currently finishing his JD/MBA at Northwestern University in Evanston, IL.
Q1: Tell us about Jail Education Solutions (JES). What is your mission and main focus?
JES is dedicated to improving inmate outcomes during incarceration and after release by incentivizing educational and vocational progress through tablet technology in correctional facilities. Investment in inmate education leads to reduced recidivism and lowers taxpayer liability. However, educational programming in correctional facilities is extremely limited and does not currently meet inmate demand. JES grants inmates access to an immense collection of resources, which would otherwise be unavailable, such as k-12 education, GED and college readiness; employment and other community resources; exploratory educational material; cognitive behavioral therapy and treatment and legal information. It does so at no additional cost to the institution or taxpayer.
Q2: How did Jail Education Solutions get started?
The initial interest happened when I was young, and came from my father. He was a psychology professor at Folsom Prison, and his bedtime stories were his student’s papers. I saw so much human potential locked up, but at that age had no idea about the magnitude of the problem. It wasn’t until later in my first year at Northwestern Law School when I began work on a Social Impact Bond initiative for Cook County's Jail (Chicago) that I was reminded of the great need for opportunity. This passion, bolstered by the very innovative Sheriff Tom Dart, provided the space to test, learn, and create JES.
Q3: How are you working to promote economic mobility and workforce development at the local level?
Recidivism strips individuals of opportunities for success, breaks families, and harms communities while costing taxpayers billions of dollars. Empowering just one individual to escape the incarceration cycle through employment can produce a cascade of benefits in a community, and JES aims to do this with each and every one of its customers. This set of employer tools is a new model because, in contrast to a variety of vocational programs being offered to the recently incarcerated, our program allows the incarcerated to work their way toward a job while they are still incarcerated. By integrating with the JES educational tablets, this platform allows a level of communication and training never before possible, better enabling former inmates to transition to employment.
Q4: In what ways are you partnering with other organizations to increase your impact?
We’ve received grant funding from the Chicago Community Trust and MacArthur Foundation. We regularly collaborate with numerous community-based organizations, start-ups, and companies. One significant area of collaboration is in content production -- we have co-created many educational and enrichment programs that we are sharing with inmates.
Q5: If people want to learn more about Jail Education Solutions, what should they do?