‘They gave me $40 and a bus ticket’ — founder of platform helping former prison inmates

Sitting in a small room in his apartment block’s co-working space in Yonkers, New York, Andre Peart joins a 10am call with his IT team halfway across the country.

The 33-year-old chief executive and founder of Untapped Solutions is chatting to colleagues about technology updates to their free platform which, since 2020, has offered support to people coming out of prison — helping them to find jobs, and access healthcare and education.

Besides being a case management system, the platform offers a subscription service to non-profit and government bodies, for job referrals, and also creates reports on former inmates’ progress.

Information logged on the system can then be analysed to show organisations what they can do to help people more quickly and efficiently.

African-American male with tattoos on his arms engaging in a video call or presentation, using a laptop on a white table in a modern home office environment
The platform supports former inmates in finding jobs and accessing healthcare and education, while logging their progress in the system

Each year, more than 600,000 people are released from prisons across the US. While programmes to help former inmates reintegrate into society vary from state to state, critics say most are inadequate in helping people get back on their feet and stay out of prison.

Mass incarceration in the US has ballooned in the past five decades, and is up by 500 per cent since 1970, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. The US is home to the largest number of prisoners worldwide — around 2mn people are currently imprisoned in the country.

Keeping people out of prison once they are released is therefore a priority — and one that Untapped Solutions aims to tackle by harnessing the power of technology.

A New York City Department of Correction van driving on a city street with other vehicles around, including a McDonald’s restaurant in the background
More than 600,000 people are released from prisons across the US every year

Peart’s idea to set up the platform was rooted in personal experience. Raised between Harlem and Yonkers, a northern suburb of New York City, he says his childhood was great until he became a teenager.

“As I got to that decision-making age [between] 13 and 16, things started to switch up just because of the neighbourhood we landed in,” he says — noting that his family moved around a lot. Born to a Jamaican mother and a British father, Peart says he found a certain understanding in the streets that was missing from home.

He began to get involved in gangs and was arrested multiple times. In 2012, he was sent to a prison upstate to serve a six-year sentence for a gang-related crime.

While in prison, Peart rediscovered the Christian faith of his childhood and became a teacher, encouraging fellow inmates to change their lives. This helped him qualify for early release in 2018.

Busy urban street scene with a woman in a pink jacket crossing the road in the foreground, and a variety of storefronts, including a dental center and clothing stores, in the background
Downtown Yonkers, near to where Andre Peart grew up

At the time of his release, he was unaware of any re-entry programmes. “They gave me $40 and a bus ticket to whatever city in the state of New York I wanted to go to,” he says. “That was the best thing they could do for you.”

Peart struggled to readjust to his new life: trying to find a job with a felony criminal record, while juggling family responsibilities and meeting the conditions set out by the court. He ended up homeless for many months.

“The criminal legal system was not designed to work for people who look like [me],” Peart says.

Close-up view of the entrance to a U.S. Courthouse, highlighted by classical architectural columns and a frieze with the building’s name engraved on it
Peart struggled to meet the conditions set out by the court and ended up homeless for several months

Black Americans, like Peart, make up 14 per cent of all US residents but represent 35 per cent of prison and jail populations. And, while there are more men than women in US prisons overall, the rates of incarceration for women have risen faster than those of men for decades.  

On being introduced to the professional social networking site LinkedIn by a mentor, Peart recalls he had an idea: “What if we had this, but for people like me?”

2mnThe number of people currently imprisoned in the US

With the help of a social impact accelerator scheme in Atlanta, sponsored by Techstars Atlanta, he was able to meet investors and start raising enough capital to build Untapped Solutions. Soon, the new platform attracted a $150,000 investment from the De-Carceration Fund, a Philadelphia-based venture capital fund specialising in early-stage tech start-ups that aim to disrupt the criminal legal system.

Chris Bentley, the fund’s founder and managing principal, says Untapped Solutions stood out as a way for non-profits, employers and former inmates to connect, with the potential to make the re-entry process more efficient for everyone involved.

The De-Carceration Fund raises capital from a network of limited partners — including high-net-worth individuals, investing groups, mission-aligned foundations, and others — to invest in companies focused on returning power to those who, the fund says, the justice system has victimised.

Two professional men in suits standing side by side against a dark building backdrop
Lawrence Williams, left, who is a partner at the De-Carceration Fund, and Chris Bentley, the founder and managing principal

“This problem is not solved by policy . . . philanthropy . . . [or] the market alone,” Bentley says. “It’s taking those three things together and finding innovations to scale good policy or disrupt bad policy.” He believes there should be economic opportunities to create better business models and outcomes for vulnerable people involved in the criminal legal system.

The De-Carceration Fund has invested in businesses across the country but, in Philadelphia, it has found an impact investing ecosystem, offering the opportunity to foster new partnerships with companies, local universities and boards that are aligned with the fund’s mission.

To date, Peart says Untapped Solutions has raised $1.7mn of capital, with a $120,000 investment from Techstars Atlanta, $150,000 from Google, and $100,000 from Dream.org, a non-profit organisation committed to ending mass incarceration, among others. More than 120,000 formerly incarcerated people are now using the platform, which is gearing up for a series A funding round next year.

Peart says the company has succeeded in fundraising, to date, because it understands its customers and what is important to them.

One of the most recent partners to join the platform is the Centre for Alternative Sentencing and Employment Services (Cases), a New York City-based non-profit organisation that offers services to people in the court system. Through an ongoing pilot programme, Cases supports the platform’s users in finding jobs, education programmes, and occupational health certifications.

Grace Garcia, a social worker and borough supervisor of the organisation’s office in Queens, says one of the best things about the Untapped Solutions platform is that it cuts through the red tape around employment.

African American woman in a floral top working at her office desk, leaning forward to read documents next to a computer with a large monitor
Social worker Grace Garcia readies a room where clients are introduced to Untapped Solutions, which she says helps them cut through red tape

“This is a platform that’s designed to support individuals who have been justice impacted, behavioural health impacted, et cetera,” she says. People with incarceration backgrounds often worry about not being able to pass background checks, she points out.

Nico Hammonds, a community engagement specialist at Cases, often walks clients through the sign-up process to show them how to use the platform and apply for jobs. “We want to make sure they’re a part of it — this is their journey, their story,” she says.

Hammond and Gracia say the platform has made their work more efficient as they can spend less time job searching for individuals and focus more on helping them with interview preparation.

Two women smiling at the camera in an office setting, one Black woman in a floral blouse and another Caucasian woman in a black hoodie and gray pants, with computer workstations in the background
Nico Hammonds, left, and Grace Garcia, at Cases, which offers services to people in the court system and has partnered with Untapped Solutions

Nearly 21,000 people leave prison every year in New York.

In March, New York City Mayor Eric Adams announced a $14mn investment in Rikers Island, one of the most notorious prisons in the country, with a portion due to be spent on transition planning to address re-entry challenges.

The city has been grappling with plans to close the prison and replace it with a smaller network of localised jails, but construction delays and issues with overcrowding have stalled progress.

Norrinda Brown, an associate professor of law at Fordham University in New York, says years of bad policy have created the problem of mass incarceration and advocates closing prisons across the country.

“We didn’t have this prison population before we did,” she says. “We existed without [mass incarceration] until the 1980s, and we’re letting this persist.” 

“The government could stop this,” she argues. “We know what to do, we just need to do it.”

Brown is also sceptical of innovation by tech players in impact investing, and says philanthropy is a better way to make a difference. “The billionaires who give all their money away, that’s what we need,” she says. “They tend to give to the people who know [what to do with it]. They don’t want to micromanage it. They’re just giving,” she says.

Portrait of a professional Black woman in a textured orange dress, smiling gently in an office environment with a modern glass door and a wooden bookcase in the background
Norrinda Brown, at Fordham University, says the problem of mass incarceration in the US has come from years of bad policy

Bentley at the De-Carceration Fund agrees that the market, alone, cannot solve all the problems.

“The critical thing is to make sure that our solutions are aligned, to scale good policy trends, or [to] disrupt bad policy trends — and are built on the knowledge that was gained through all the advocacy reform work that’s been done over the years.”

A man approaches the main entry of the New York City Department of Correction, marked by blue and white colors and clear signage, with a partly cloudy sky above
New York City Mayor Eric Adams announced a $14mn investment in Rikers Island prison, with some to be spent on planning to address former inmates’ ‘re-entry’ challenges

Through partnerships with local departments of corrections, Untapped Solutions says it now has a presence in every state in the US. Peart’s main focus is to further integrate the platform with social service departments, caseworkers and government agencies.

“Humans alone will not solve the issue of helping people rehabilitate successfully,” says Peart. “It’s also about capital, strong connections to government prisons, department of corrections, parole, and probation offices, and getting them to adopt this technology.”


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