Two Northwestern Alums Think Tablets Are the Answer to Prison Recidivism. Here’s Why.
The U.S. prison system has long struggled with rehabilitating its massive populations in a meaningful way. Edovo’s Brian Hill (Kellogg ’15) and Mitchel Peterman (Medill ’15) believe that access to educational, vocational, and life skills content can radically change that dynamic.
According to Edovo, 12 million people funnel through our nation’s prisons and jails annually, and nearly half will return within three years of release. As an antidote, correctional education has proven to decrease recidivism by 43%, but more than 4 out of 5 incarcerated individuals still lack regular access to such programming.
Brian Hill (Kellogg ’15) and Mitchel Peterman (Medill ’15) believe that’s unacceptable. So they’re working on a solution.
Edovo works with correctional facilities to distribute educational programming on tablets to inmates at scale, while also providing opportunities for increased communication with friends and family.
“If Edovo is successful in our overall mission,” says Hill, “we will help transform the correctional industry completely through meaningful access to valuable content and evidence-based rehabilitation.”
In addition to educational content, Edovo leverages entertainment incentives as a way to drive engagement. When learners spend time on substantive courses, they earn points that they can then redeem for movies, games, and music. This model is incredibly effective at keeping individuals engaged and also allowing them to work towards goals.
“More than 80% of individuals with access to Edovo utilize the program on a weekly basis,” Hill continues. “That rate nearly doubles metrics by other providers in the industry.”
Edovo is active in more than 80 correctional facilities across 25 states, and the company services a wide range of correctional facilities, from juvenile detention centers to statewide Departments of Correction. Founded in 2013, Edovo has now served more than 45,000 individuals.
We sat down with Hill and Peterman to learn more.
Tell us the origins of Edovo. What and who inspired it?
When I (Brian) was growing up, my father taught college courses in Folsom Prison, and he would share related essays and stories with us at night — they were our bed time stories. You could feel the hope, the brilliance, and the struggle of his students, and it was disheartening even at the age of 10 to see so much human potential locked up.
Later on, I began my JD/MBA at Northwestern looking for impact that could scale —creating tactical (not just emotional) solutions to complex problems—and, a few months in, I led a county project in Chicago looking to use a Social Impact Bond (SIB) to reduce the population of Cook County Jail. The access I was granted and the time I spent in the jail nurtured the seeds that had been planted years before.
What are Edovo’s most popular programs and applications?
Edovo offers a unique system where learners earn points for time spent on education that they ‘spend’ on entertainment rewards like movies and games. However, we’ve found most users actually spend the majority of their time engaging with educational content by choice. Some of the most popular courses are reading literacy and comprehension, parenting while incarcerated, anger management, and GED preparation. A lot of users pursue vocational certificates like Cisco networking or Commercial Truck Driving as well.
Why is it important that inmates are given autonomy or learn it? How does Edovo enable this to happen?
Learning in a correctional environment can be extremely difficult. There are often limitations to classroom space and teacher availability, and budget shortfalls often result in a majority of individuals lacking the ability to participate in programs.
Edovo addresses this problem by utilizing individual tablets to deliver educational content that is engaged with in a self-directed manner. Incarcerated individuals are able to choose what they want to learn and follow a clear curriculum to help them achieve their goals.
What life changes occur as a result of the incarcerated interacting with Edovo, both in their lives and their families’?
Edovo provides the incarcerated with a significant opportunity to develop tangible job and key life skills. Our platform allows individuals to improve their mental health through meditation and their physical health through substance abuse treatment and other opportunities.
Our communication services also play a vital role in keeping families connected by allowing individuals to maintain contact with their support systems during an extremely difficult time in their lives. Edovo’s focus is on keeping families connected and helping individuals use incarceration for productive rehabilitation.
What are the biggest challenges Edovo faces?
As Edovo continues to scale, our largest obstacle to growth and achieving our long term goals will be disrupting the market dominance of the top two providers in the industry. Another obstacle is driving correctional institutions to place more value on educational opportunities for their incarcerated populations. By shifting the focus away from revenue generation toward utilizing education and programming to help drive correctional success, institutions can begin to see the tangible benefits that lead to improved outcomes. They’ll also see increased public safety and a lower burden for taxpayers.
Our unique model and innovation in the educational space has already gained a significant foothold in the market, allowing us to continue innovating on our core service offerings.
What’s appealing about Edovo to venture investors?
Edovo is an impact organization that focuses on true correctional reform and improving incarcerated opportunities. Edovo also serves a population and industry that is fairly outdated when it comes to technological adoption. There are so many opportunities for how tablets and other tech services can be utilized now that they are being implemented in this space, from digitizing jail operations to providing digital health care services — not to mention the opportunity for continued care and engagement post-release through traditional online access.
Edovo partners with impact-based funds and organizations that are aligned with our mission of improving the lives of those affected by incarceration. We’re thrilled to see mission-focused impact investors step up to improve communities and better a very challenging space in our country.
How has Northwestern’s entrepreneurial ecosystem benefitted Edovo?
Northwestern was unquestionably what made Edovo possible. From classmates who became co-founders to Linda Darragh’s foundational Entrepreneurship course (not to mention her connections and NU’s affiliation with Impact Engine), to the more than $70K awarded in competitions by Kellogg Innovation Network (KIN) and the summer Pritzker Fellowship—all of it proved critical to training us and incubating our business. I came to Kellogg for just this purpose and was granted the tools to be successful within just one year.
Purple Arch Ventures is a network of Northwestern alums investing in Northwestern-connected businesses. Click here if you’d like to learn more about venture investing with Purple Arch.