Microsoft Supports Criminal Justice App Ideas in Cleveland

An app that helps low-income defendants make bail is in the works and so is an app that would help track the many obstacles ex-offenders face when released from prison. They sprang from a hackathon in Cleveland.

by Peter Krouse, Advance Ohio Media / November 14, 2018

(TNS) — An app that helps low-income defendants make bail is in the works and so is an app that would help track the many obstacles ex-offenders face when released from prison.

The ideas for the apps didn’t emanate from some think tank, but rather from a group of activists who were brought together in Cleveland for the purpose of finding ways that technology can enhance criminal justice.

The Fix216: Criminal Justice Scope-a-thon was held at the Midtown TechHive on Euclid Avenue. The organization promoting the session was HackCleveland, an offshoot of the nonprofit Cleveland Neighborhood Progress. The Cleveland Foundation provided funding to HackCleveland for the effort.

Five groups of six to eight members competed for cash prizes that are to be used to bring their ideas to fruition, according to Justin Bibb, co-founder of HackCleveland.

The top prize went to a group who proposed an app that would connect low-income inmates with the resources to make bail. The members call themselves “Unbailed." They will receive $6,000 to develop the app along with up to $5,000 in software support from Microsoft. Group member Cait Kennedy, a graduate student at Cleveland State University, said her group wanted to address the human and taxpayer costs of jailing people unnecessarily.

Kennedy said her group wanted to start a community bail fund similar to the Bronx Freedom Fund, which helps New Yorkers charged with low-level offenses to make bail and then to ensure that those defendants make their court appearances. Once the defendants have met their legal obligations, the money is returned to the fund to be reused.

Kennedy said the goal is to make the bail app accessible to defendants, as well as their family and friends. The group also envisions the app being able to receive donations from the community.

Second place in the Scope-a-thon went to a group envisioning an app that would collect data on the many ways ex-offenders are denied opportunities, such as being turned down for a job or a loan. The group was awarded $4,000 to pursue its goal, along with up to $5,000 in software support from Microsoft.

One of the members of that group is Ken Brickman, an ex-offender who works as a job developer for the Center for Employment Opportunities in Cleveland. Brickman said that he didn’t know what he was getting into when he showed up for the Scope-a-thon, "but I had to be part of it.”

The app is expected to allow ex-offenders who face obstacles, or what group members call “collateral sanctions," to self report those experiences on the app. A partnership that has yet to be developed would monitor the app to determine how the information might be used, such as to provide data for university research or to advocate for policy changes, Brickman said.

Four members of the community served as judges for the Scope-a-thon. They were Damian Calvert, program facilitator at Collaboration Station and field trainer/program developer at Reentry Bridge Network; Ronnie Dunn, chief diversity officer and associate professor of urban studies at Cleveland State University; Antonio Howard, software quality assurance analyst at Hyland Software; and Denise Williams, a former data scientist with IBM.

©2018 Advance Ohio Media, Cleveland. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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