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Uptrust Raises $2M, Expands into Probation and Parole

The startup has made a name for itself with software that reminds defendants of court dates so they don't get hit with penalties for failing to appear. Now the company is expanding into more of the justice process.

A person's hand sticking through the bars of a jail cell
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Uptrust, a startup whose technology helps prevent the jailing of people for not making court dates, has raised $2 million from investors and is expanding into probation and parole.

The company’s software was built to send text reminders to defendants in order to reduce the number of people who miss court dates and then go to jail, as well as to allow for easy two-way text communication with public defenders. But probation and parole can carry the same kind of punitive measures as failing to appear for a court hearing can — failure to check in can land a person in jail. So Uptrust is now expanding into probation and parole, allowing for mobile check-ins and two-way communication.

Uptrust has already run four pilot tests of the expanded functionality in Iowa and California.

“We started Uptrust to focus on a particularly avoidable and egregious pain point in the criminal justice system: missed court dates that result in hundreds of thousands of people going to jail each year,” said Uptrust CEO and Co-Founder Jacob Sills in a press release. “As we have grown, we’ve seen that there are countless other types of preventable technical violations that ultimately cost local governments over $10 billion per year, with even more devastating costs for people and their families. When people are incarcerated needlessly for arbitrary violations that pose no threat to public safety, they frequently suffer job, housing and child custody losses.”

The idea is not only to keep people out of jail but also to save money for government. The company says its monthly fees are significantly less than the cost of incarceration or electronic monitoring.

The funding is the first official investment round for the company; it previously relied entirely on funding from foundations, and Sills told Government Technology in 2018 that he was only interested in mission-driven investors. The participants in the company’s seed round include Luminate, Stand Together Ventures Lab and the De-Carceration Fund.

Despite its lack of traditional investment, Uptrust has achieved significant growth in the past three years. In 2018, the company had 11 customers and was just beginning to expand outside California. Today, it operates in 547 counties across 27 states, and its customer jurisdictions include several of the most populous in the U.S. — Los Angeles County, Maricopa County, Ariz., and Miami-Dade County among them.

“As impact investors, we are constantly looking for opportunities to secure both positive social impact and profit. Uptrust has identified a solution to a systemic flaw in the criminal justice system that through improved communication can accomplish both,” said Chris Bentley, managing principal of the De-Carceration Fund, in the statement. “We are proud to invest in Uptrust and play a role in this positive systemic change. For every positive intervention we can make in someone’s life, helping them to avoid technical violations and hold onto their housing, their job, their child care, we are moving the needle on improving the U.S. criminal justice system.”
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