Connect for Educators
One-line solution summary:
Connect for Educators: A free video calling platform to virtually connect education providers to incarcerated people.
Pitch your solution.
Connect for Educators is a virtual education solution built for prison educators to facilitate remote learning. COVID-19 and the indefinite suspension of in-person instruction in prisons across the country has highlighted the advantages of hybrid remote learning and has left educators yearning for secure remote solutions. Virtual education solutions used in conventional university settings are not secure, and not permitted in a correctional environment. That is why we are currently working with Yale Prison Education Initiative, Asnuntuck Community College, Washington County Community College, University of Maine, and Coastline Community College to deliver virtual instruction to incarcerated students.
Reducing recidivism requires coordinated reentry support. Currently, essential resources do not reach incarcerated people until just before or after they are released – often with little to no support network or preparation. Connect will ensure that in-person visitation is not the only way low-income incarcerated people can access this support.
What specific problem are you solving?
U.S. mass incarceration is bolstered by sky-high recidivism: over 80% of released individuals are rearrested within 9 years. This ripples through generations: research finds children with incarcerated parents more likely to themselves be incarcerated. The justice system fails to reintegrate the 650,000 individuals it releases each year.
Poverty and economic exclusion underpin cycles of incarceration. 50% of incarcerated people had zero income in the 8 years before their arrest. 65% of families with incarcerated members (a population covering nearly 1 in 2 Americans) are unable to meet basic needs. Just as poverty drives incarceration, incarceration entrenches poverty: formerly incarcerated people compete for jobs disadvantaged by criminal records, limited education (1 in 4 formerly incarcerated people lack a high school diploma), and years behind bars without any training or work experience. It is no surprise that four years after release, 50% of individuals are still without income.
What is your solution?
Connect is the nation’s first free video calling platform. Ameelio is developing Connect for Educators, a virtual learning platform designed for incarcerated students and correctional education providers. Ameelio will provide the technology and tablet infrastructure necessary to facilitate video appointments between incarcerated students and remote educators.
The first phase of our program will involve conversations with correctional personnel to identify existing hardware capabilities and conversations with education administrators to understand curricular demands. Then, Ameelio will develop its platform to conform to these needs and will provide the correctional facility with broadband, tablet hardware, and its video conferencing software. The first version of our software will include technology that allows for one-on-one video calls, scheduling, recording and storage of calls, and a call log. Successive versions of our software, which we will develop during the course of the educational program and release through updates, will include class and group formats, electronic messaging, and digital asset management to allow students to access educational resources.
We have already secured $500,000 to support this initiative from Jack Dorsey’s Start Small Fund. Funding from MIT Solve would be wholly dedicated to installing the infrastructure required for education access across several states.
Who does your solution serve, and in what ways will the solution impact their lives?
Ameelio serves incarcerated people and their loved ones—a population of nearly 27 million that is disproportionately made up of people of color and low-income families. 53% of families earning between $0-24k have a loved one who is currently or formerly incarcerated; people of color are incarcerated at higher rates, and typically given harsher sentences.
2.7 million of our target users are children, separated from incarcerated parents. Research tells us that because of limited contact with their parents and the other social costs borne of this reality, these children are more likely to become incarcerated themselves. Ameelio strives to reduce this probability by connecting children to incarcerated parents.
We launched our first product––Letters, a platform that allows people with incarcerated loved ones to send free letters, photos, and postcards to any incarcerated person in the U.S.––in March 2020, in response to prison visitation closures as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. With prison visitation still suspended at most facilities, families need free communications alternatives more than ever before. Ameelio is filling that gap, providing services that keep incarcerated people from being overwhelmed by isolation and loneliness.
Which dimension of the Challenge does your solution most closely address?Increase access to high-quality, affordable learning, skill-building, and training opportunities for those entering the workforce, transitioning between jobs, or facing unemployment
Explain how the problem, your solution, and your solution’s target population relate to the Reimagining Pathways to Employment in the US Challenge and your selected dimension.
By creating ways for reentry-focused organizations to stay in touch with incarcerated people who need their support, even while in-person programming is suspended indefinitely, Ameelio is paving the way for success upon release.
Most reentry services start being advertised to incarcerated people only when they reach their release date. However, players in the reentry space tell us that successful reintegration efforts must include longer-term programs. By helping reentry service organizations reach incarcerated people weeks or months before their release date, we will ensure that these resources reach those who need them with enough time to make an impact.
In what city, town, or region is your solution team headquartered?New Haven, CT, USA
In which US state(s) will you be operating within the next year?
What is your solution’s stage of development?Prototype: A venture or organization building and testing its product, service, or business model
Who is the team lead for your solution?
Uzoma Orchingwa, Co-Founder & CEO
How many people work on your solution team?
2 full-time Co-Founders – CEO & CTO
1 full-time Lead Engineer
1 full-time Product Manager
3 independent contractor Software Engineers
1 independent contractor UX
1 independent contractor Media & Communications Manager
1 part-time Head of Policy
1 part-time Head of Outreach
1 part-time Grantwriter
Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion: What is your approach to building a diverse, equitable, and inclusive organization?
Equity is central to our mission. Right now, poverty and economic exclusion underpin cycles of incarceration, and people of color are among those bearing the bulk of the brunt. For these groups, statistics after release are even more dismal, and feed into a cruel cycle — children with incarcerated parents are far more likely to become incarcerated themselves.
Ameelio hopes to ease the burden of reentry and break the cycle of incarceration that these populations are so often caught in by providing communication tools to access resources that will allow them to help themselves. We actively seek feedback from the populations we serve every step of the way in order to tailor our organization to their needs, and hope that, by creating a pathway to success despite incarcerations’ cruel standard, our organization can promote diversity, equity, and inclusivity for all populations in the United States.
Which of the following categories best describes your solution?A new technology
Describe what makes your solution innovative.
Select the key characteristics of your target population.