Bullish: Tech tackles criminal justice reform

It’s no secret that the criminal justice system in the United States is broken. With 2.2 million people behind bars in prisons and jails in the country, the U.S. has the largest prison population in the world. In our first episode of Bullish since taking a break in May, I sat down with Chris Redlitz, a general partner at Transmedia Capital and co-founder of The Last Mile, to talk about the tech industry’s role in criminal justice reform. The Last Mile, located inside San Quentin, teaches incarcerated people about entrepreneurship, as well as how to code.

“There’s such an issue with incarceration in America that such a recidivism rate of over 60 percent where people are getting out, not getting jobs, falling back in the same habits and then going back to prison,” Redlitz told me on Bullish. “It’s really important that they’re trained in employable skills, and what we’ve launched recently, teaching coding in prison, is one of the most employable skills there is, so that was really the motivation in going this route.”

Since launching the program, The Last Mile has facilitated the placement of formerly incarcerated at tech companies, most of which have been early-stage startups, Redlitz said.

“There is a huge talent pool that is in the incarcerated population today,” Redlitz told me. “One of the things that I realized when we started this program is there are many talented people who went down the wrong path. With some training, they can be employed and they can add a lot of value to tech companies today.”

Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg have visited people participating in The Last Mile at San Quentin so that “they can understand the process that [incarcerated people] are going through, so it’s not a mystery when they’re coming out,” Redlitz said. The two companies have yet to hire anyone who has gone through The Last Mile, but it sounds like it’ll happen at some point.

“It’s a long process,” Redlitz told me. “We’re still in discussions. The answer is I’m confident that it will happen in the future.”

Last week, President Donald Trump issued three executive orders related to the criminal justice system. More specifically, they were aimed at reducing crime, cracking down on gangs and expanding punishments for violence against police officers. But the federal government only has so much control over the criminal justice system as a whole, so it’s unclear what effect these executive orders will actually have. Redlitz also thinks it’s unlikely that anything Trump does will negatively impact The Last Mile.

“The good news is that only 10 percent of the prison population is under federal jurisdiction,” Redlitz said. “Most of them are state by state and California has been very supportive of what we’re doing. Jerry Brown is personally supportive of what we’re doing so we don’t think it’s going to have a lot of impact on us and our program.”