Promise (YC W18) – Cost-effective, more humane alternative to jail

Hi HN,

We are Phaedra and Diana of Promise ( We provide a cost-effective, more humane alternative to incarceration.

We work for government agencies to monitor and support individuals who would otherwise be in jail or who are under some form of community supervision.

There are almost 2.3 million people behind bars in the US and another 4.5+ million people on probation or parole. Almost 450,000 people are in jails pretrial, meaning they have not been convicted of the crime for which they were arrested. The majority of these individuals remain in custody because they cannot afford to pay for their release. This is costly for governments and devastating for the individuals who remain in jail who can lose their job, housing, children and more while incarcerated. Believe it or not, many of these people never even end up being charged with or convicted of a crime.

Phaedra had a background in politics (she ran the South Bay Labor Council) and Diana had a background in law (as a criminal defense attorney and co-founder of the Ella Baker Center). We then worked together at a non-profit (Green For All), in the music industry (for the musician Prince) and in technology (at Honor). We decided to start Promise because we saw a huge need for innovation in the criminal justice system and wanted to use what we had learned in tech to build something that actually helps change lives for the better and can scale.

Here's how Promise works: We work in partnership with governments who release people from jail on condition that they work with Promise as an alternative to being in custody. We also provide support to people under community supervision. We use an intake assessment to create an individualized plan that is based on the risks and needs of each participant. We provide each participant with an app and a wearable tracking device (only when required). Our goal is to always use the least restrictive means necessary and to use a step-up, step-down approach: that is, we reduce restrictions when possible and increase only when needed. While there are still restrictions on freedom, participants will no longer be in custody so that they can return to their jobs, families, and communities until their case is resolved or they no longer have any required supervision.

We then monitor and support participants to help them succeed with their plans. We provide an intelligent calendar of their obligations (court appearances, drug testing, substance abuse treatment, etc.) and adaptive reminders to help them meet these obligations. Research and experience have shown that simple intervention like this does work: for example, it makes people more likely to get to court. We also provide referrals and support so participants can receive services that may help (job training/placement, housing, counseling, etc.). We provide reports to courts or other involved parties as needed. We also allow the participants to easily view their upcoming obligations, overall plan and progress on their plan.

We believe this approach can support participants' needs, keep communities safer, and provide a cost-effective and more humane alternative to incarceration in the US. Our business model is simple: we charge governments a fee. Incarceration is so expensive that we can make a profit and still save governments—and ultimately tax payers—money.

We would love to get feedback on Promise and in particular to hear about your ideas and experiences in this area, whether working in government agencies, selling to such agencies or as individuals who have been impacted by this system. There is a huge amount of work to be done here!

Thank you!!

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andrey azimov by Andrey Azimov