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Our country’s criminal justice system is flawed, and Jay-Z—via his entertainment company Roc Nation—is trying to help do something about it. Roc Nation just announced it is financially backing a new app called Promise, which aims to work on a more cost-effective and humane replacement for incarceration.
The Promise app, developed by Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins and Diana Frappier, is launching today at Y Combinator’s winter demo day. The app will purportedly work with government agencies to provide support and assistance to those who are taken into custody or on parole. Following a “comprehensive intake procedure,” the app will first help by providing financial assistance for bail. From there, the app is more of an organizational and reference tool. It includes a smart calendar that aggregates information and pushes reminders about upcoming court appearances, drug tests, and substance abuse treatments. It will also help coordinate referrals and support when an individual is ready for job placement, counseling, or housing.
According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. jails saw 10.6 million admissions in 2016. Most (65 percent) of that number weren’t actually convicted of any offense, but rather were “awaiting court action on a current charge.” This seems to be the target demographic of the Promise app: The 6.89 million people held in jail mostly because they couldn’t afford bail.
“We are increasingly alarmed by the injustice in our criminal justice system,” Jay-Z said in a statement. “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. Promise’s team, led by Phaedra, is building an app that can help provide ‘liberty and justice for all’ to millions.”
Ellis-Lamkins, the Promise app’s founder, is a social justice entrepreneur and the former manager of Prince. Previously, she worked with Honor, an in-home care company for the elderly.
Christina Bonnington is a tech reporter who specializes in consumer gadgets, apps, and the trends shaping the technology industry. Her work has also appeared in Gizmodo, Wired, Refinery29, Slate, Bicycling, and Outside Magazine. She is based in the San Francisco Bay Area and has a background in electrical engineering.