• Posted Monday, August 22, 2016

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APDS and Operation Backpack team up to deliver school supplies to homeless children in need

On August 19th, the APDS team joined forces with the Volunteers of America’s Operation Backpack to help thousands of homeless school-aged kids in New York City prepare for school. The incredible project provides, with the help of over 180 sponsors, backpacks filled with grade specific supplies for K-12 students residing in homeless shelters across New York City.

Doing so not only prepares kids for a successful school year, but also helps eliminate the stigma associated with living in a shelter. For many of these children, beginning the school year with no backpack and few, if any, school supplies identify them as “disadvantaged” or as “shelter kids” from day one.  By reducing the hardship these students face, Operation Backpack hopes to aid their future success.

The project is an enormous undertaking, with nearly 18,000 filled backpacks required to serve this population. Throughout the summer months, hundreds of volunteers have both donated supplies, or gathered to help fill packs. We joined the project last Friday, spending the afternoon packing backpacks for the worthy cause. The day was a huge success, and APDS was thrilled to play even a small part in this wonderful project.

Check out some pictures from the day below:

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APDS Support Associate, Lynette Gonzalez packs two bags at once for students in grades 5-8
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APDS’ Tadesh Inagaki and Kevin Tripp stuff backpacks for Pre-k and Kindergarten aged children
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Team APDS celebrates after a successful day with Operation Backpack!

  • Posted Tuesday, August 2, 2016

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    Corrections

Device Mobility in Correctional Settings is an Expertise

Giving inmates access to technology so that they can consume various types of permitted content and services safely and securely comes in essentially three flavors: static, Wi-Fi, and cellular 4G/LTE.

Static or tethered solutions are deployments of devices that can only be updated by being plugged into a fixed point connection, typically a kiosk.  Not only do you rule out real-time interactive services, but there are real concerns about the user experience to take into consideration.  Will the inmates get frustrated by having to connect infrequently?  Are the offenders getting the maximum rehabilitative benefit from the service if they can only update occasionally?  What happens if the incarcerated have to queue up for hours at a time in order to update their devices?  What kind of a burden does this impose on the facility IT staff in terms of maintaining a segregated fixed line connection, along with the related points of access?

Mobility is desirable.

But, Wi-Fi has its own set of problems.  While it may be tempting to think that the physical environment of a jail or prison is sufficient to prevent access to external Wi-Fi networks, that particular kind of lazy assumption can be dangerous.

Wi-Fi is not nearly as secure as cellular 4G/LTE, either.  Cellular 4G/LTE builds upon the bedrock of CDMA technology, the most secure wireless communications platform in the world.

For devices that use Wi-Fi to connect to the network, you cannot be entirely sure that they are connecting to the facility network.  They may be able to hack into other networks, or they may be able to set up other security breaches in which an offender’s associates set up rogue access points in order to communicate with the device behind bars.  Here’s an entertaining video showing a seven-year-old British girl hacking into a device after watching a short video she found after a cursory web search.

But, isn’t cellular 4G/LTE often weak in correctional environments given the constraints of the physical plant?  This is occasionally true, but the proliferation of so-called “swag” phones (or, illegal phones) in correctional facilities suggests that it is not as true as some might think.  Illegal phones are a significant form of contraband and they are used to do things that make correctional facilities explicitly more dangerous.

Some facilities have abundant ambient cellular signal; others have very poor signal, or intermittent signal, because of their physical location with respect to cellular towers, or constraints imposed by the physical plant such as metal and glass that blocks transmission.

Resolving cellular 4G/LTE signal in correctional environments is a difficult skill.  It requires an understanding of correctional environments and a good sense of the leading edge of wireless technology solutions.

With more than two years in the field, in correctional facilities across the country, American Prison Data Systems, PBC has developed this unique expertise.  We have seen almost every conceivable problem with signal transmission.  In one case, the local cellular tower sent its signal over a county jail which was located in a deep bowl in the terrain.  In another case, the city’s IT infrastructure included a critical radio system that was using wireless spectrum illegally, interfering with signal for our devices.  We have been deployed in segregated housing units with especially challenging physical layouts and in facilities that happen to lie at the conflicting transmission circles of two separate towers.

We have learned from all of these situations and found different ways to resolve weak ambient signal.

This experience has made us one of the most knowledgeable end users when it comes to signal augmentation in the Verizon system.

So much so, that when Verizon was conducting the final beta tests on some advanced signal equipment, they asked us to deploy it in one of our client facilities.  We ended up identifying problems that they had not anticipated.  This tight relationship has meant that we were one of the first Verizon customers in North America to deploy this particular piece of equipment in the field.

We consider our implementation and support process to be a critical distinguishing factor.  Our wireless signal runs fast, true, and, most importantly, secure in all of our client facilities with the kind of reliability America has come to expect from the number one wireless carrier nationally.

  • Posted Wednesday, July 6, 2016

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    Corrections

As Inmate Populations Increase, Technology Can Help Relieve Pressure on Parole/Probation

The Wall Street Journal wrote an article entitled “Changes in Sentencing Policy Raise Pressure on Probation Officers” on July 6, 2016 noting that there were two principal effects of recent moves on sentencing and correctional reform: higher parole and probation populations were taxing the existing infrastructure of supervised control outside of incarceration, and some officials were increasingly concerned about the potential for higher recidivism, consequently.

“The current push for shorter prison sentences is putting more work on the [probation] force, federal officials say, and raising concerns that critical details might be missed that could prevent relapses among a high-risk population …

“Since 2010, 14,100 people have been freed early because of changes in sentencing law and policies, according to the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, and the federal probation case load has increased 7% since 2010.  In the same period, the budget of the U.S. Office of Probation and Pretrial Services Office rose 0.5% to $902 million.”

Even so, the percentage of federal felons who had their probation revoked dropped 2% to 27% in 2015 vs. 2010.  This is due in part to changes in risk assessment methodologies, taking into account a broader set of metrics, more prevalent in their application in the federal system.  It may also be due to less active supervision.

“But probation officials say the drop is due chiefly to the fact that there are fewer officers, relative to the number of ex-inmates, to spot violations, so more offenders remain free.”

The flipside of this problem is that underfunded state probation and parole systems may contribute to prison overcrowding, even as there is growing bipartisan pressure to reduce the size of the population behind bars.

The Council for State Government’s Justice Center released a report, highlighted in this article on testimony from CSG staff in Arkansas.

“From 2009 to 2015, the number of parole violators being sentenced to prison in ADC [Arkansas Department of Corrections] facilities increased by nearly 137 percent – making parole and probation violators nearly half of all admissions to Arkansas prisons.

“Researchers suggest much of the parole violations have to do with the caseloads parole and probation officers are dealing with on a day-to-day basis.  Data presented showed on average, ACC [Arkansas Community Corrections] caseworkers have as many as 120 individuals to look after – compared to data from North Carolina where the caseload is nearly half.”

Much depends on jurisdictional context.  But, in both cases, technology can help.

Technology like the services American Prison Data Systems, PBC offers can help in several ways.

One, by providing a mobile device connected to a wireless network, the parole or probation agency can monitor their charges remotely, potentially expanding the scale at which an individual officer can operate efficiently, while intervening less directly and obtrusively in the life of the former offender.

Two, in using the educational and rehabilitative content and services, the former offender can continue the progress they made while incarcerated (or, as an alternative to incarceration).

Three, the behavioral data that the service generates about the way in which the parolee or probationer is using the American Prison Data Systems, PBC service can help to update risk assessment engines in real-time, with data that is agnostic to the individual’s race, zip code, prior criminal history, or other charged inputs.

  • Posted Friday, June 24, 2016

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    Corrections

American Prison Data Systems Applauds Obama Admin's Latest Programs for Prisoners

The Obama administration took a big step today – announcing more than 8 specific education and jobs programs designed to make it easier for the more than 90% of incarcerated people who will one day return to their communities. American Prison Data Systems is committed to changing corrections for good, and as such, applauds the Obama administration’s continued efforts to reform our criminal justice system and reduce barriers facing justice-involved individuals to successful reentry.

Here’s a rundown of the programs the Administration announced today. Read more about each program on the White House’s website:

  • Second Chance Pell Pilot Program
  • Reentry Demonstration Project for Young Adults
  • Training to Work
  • Linking to Employment Activities Pre-Release
  • Pathways to Justice
  • Permanent Supportive Housing through Pay for Success
  • Toolkit for Housing Reentry Programs
  • Protecting the Children of Incarcerated Parents

These announcements comes just a few weeks after the White House unveiled the Fair Chance Education Pledge, in which more than two dozen institutions of higher learning pledged to reduce barriers for formerly incarcerated people to get an education at their colleges and universities.

We see it in our daily work at APDS – the time to insure an inmate has a successful reentry into the modern world starts during their time as incarcerated. That’s why each inmate enrolled in an APDS tablet program receives a customized learning plan to address educational and life skills needs. And many APDS tablet programs include employment training and college programming like the programming outlined in the Obama administration’s latest announcements.

College education, vocational training, connections to reentry support, connections to family and hope – that’s what APDS is all about, and that’s what we see in these announcements from the Obama administration.
Learn more about American Prison Data Systems and our mission to change corrections for good here.

  • Posted Wednesday, June 22, 2016

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    Corrections

Blended Learning is Especially Important in Corrections

One of the most important concepts in education today is personalized learning. And for good reason: given what we know about the wide spectrum of student learning styles and needs that teachers must address, it is clear that a “one size fits all” approach is insufficient for any classroom. The result is almost always a lack of engagement from any student who requires something different.

Unfortunately, many educators who recognize the value of personalized learning struggle to actually make it happen. One reason is that it is a complex practice; in fact, it is actually the combination of many different practices. Another is that there is often a lack of the time and material resources that are required.

This is especially true in incarcerated settings, where access to resources is highly restricted, large groups can be difficult to manage, and students have often had their education interrupted for any number of reasons. To solve this problem, an increasing number of facilities are turning to technology and employing the blended learning model in their classrooms.

Blended learning, generally defined as the mixing of traditional teaching methods with digital devices and content, is ideal for supporting a personalized learning program. Providing access to digital content and services exponentially increases the amount of educational material that students can access, and personal digital devices allows students to work on something that is just right for them specifically.

This means that teachers can not only serve more students than before, but that they can serve all of those students more effectively, as well. It is a win for everyone: teachers, administrators, and, most importantly, students.

There is ample evidence of the link between blended learning and personalized learning; the Learning Accelerator recently published their Measurement Agenda for Blended Learning, and found that within the blended learning field of study:

“There are numerous studies that focus on the individual practices that make up personalization, so many that meta-analyses and syntheses, and even meta-meta-analyses, exist, all showing moderate to large effect sizes for these practices.”

It is clear that a blended learning solution is the best way for correctional facilities to enable their teachers to deliver personalized learning.

American Prison Data Systems is well-positioned to provide this solution, with a proven safe and secure platform that is specifically designed on the principle that every learner has unique needs. Through tablets and laptops, they provide access to a huge variety of content, covering not only academic subjects but also areas such as vocational training and mental health.

In addition, their proprietary features allow correctional facilities to upload and even create their own content.

  • Posted Thursday, June 16, 2016

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The Importance of Celebrating Father's Day in Prison

This Sunday across the United States, families everywhere will celebrate and recognize the importance of fathers.  Now imagine yours is behind bars, literally out of reach. This is the reality for over 2 million children in the United States, to whom Father’s Day often serves as a painful reminder of the limited role their parent can play in their life.

As the incarceration rate has exploded over the past three decades, so has the effect on children and families. New studies show that “fathers’ incarceration and family hardship, including housing insecurity and behavioral problems in children, are strongly related.”

Without strong authority figures and positive role models in their lives, many of these children inevitably face a number of adverse outcomes, including antisocial and violent behavior, mental health problems, school dropout, and unemployment.

These sad realities highlight the importance of Father’s Day in prison—an opportunity to re-solidify the bond between parent and child each year. And although it is a uniquely difficult time for many incarcerated fathers as they confront their limited role as caregivers, the day is celebrated nonetheless, and often in momentous fashion. Smiling children and mothers fill visitation rooms with colorful cards, gifts and shared activities. Check out heartwarming pictures from a Father’s Day celebration at San Quentin Prison in 2012!

Jessica, says goodbye to Abel, as she holds their five-year-old daughter Camila at San Quentin state prison Donte, who said he has one year left in prison, reads a book with his daughters Cieara and Nicole at San Quentin state prison

It is moments like these that we are reminded of how important maintaining these relationships are to the health and rehabilitation of both prisoners and the innocent families on the other side of incarceration. In fact, research proves that when offenders remain connected to their families, it not only helps their kids, but also protects the rest of us, reducing recidivism.

American Prison Data Systems agrees that family preservation is key to reducing recidivism and should be a priority in our correctional approach. APDS’ custom built communication platform, Connected Corrections, offers secure, monitored messaging between family members at no cost. In conjunction with in-person visitations, APDS technology services enhance inmate’s connection to the outside world, allowing for a smoother transition back into the community.

We wish every parent in prison a Happy Father’s Day, and hope that our services help better maintain the bond a father shares with his children!

  • Posted Monday, June 13, 2016

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We All Benefit When Former Offenders Get a Fair Shot at College

Many have discussed the obstacles to employment that former offenders face because of the Box: the box on employment applications that asks for disclosure of prior incarceration, augmented by the ease of background checks in the 21st century.  The Box is, practically, a way of persistently, if not permanently, punishing the offender, regardless of the severity of the crime or its implications for future behavior.

The White House has proposed initiatives in the past to deal with these obstacles to employment, such as the Fair Chance Business Pledge:

“The pledge represents a call-to-action for members of the private sector to improve their communities by eliminating barriers for those with a criminal record and creating a pathway for a second chance … Too often, that record disqualifies individuals from being a full participant in their communities – even if they’ve already paid their debt to society.  As a result, millions of Americans have difficulty finding employment. ”

What could be more American than a second chance?

Last week, the White House extended this call with its Fair Chance Higher Education Pledge:

“This [barrier] includes admissions processes for educational institutions that can make it difficult if not impossible for those with criminal records to get an education that can lead to a job.  As President Obama has said, ‘that’s bad not only for those individuals, it’s bad for our economy.  It’s bad for the communities that desperately need more role models who are gainfully employed.  So we’ve got to make sure Americans who’ve paid their debt to society can earn their second chance.’”

As the Wall Street Journal points out, this requires a more nuanced approach to handling the difficult questions that many institutions identify as potential reasons not to admit former offenders:

“It doesn’t call for schools to completely stop checking the criminal records of potential students, acknowledging that schools must take measures to maintain student safety.”

This is a large, albeit unquantified, problem for former offenders:

“It is unclear how many applicants are rejected from colleges or universities because of their criminal records.  The bigger concern, some criminal justice reform advocates say, is that prospective students abandon their applications entirely when they see questions about their criminal histories.  A 2015 Center for Community Alternatives study of applicants to the State University of New York system found that more than 62% of those with felony convictions didn’t complete the application, well above the attrition rate for other applicants.”

This new pledge from colleges and universities may also lead to the extension of post-secondary education to correctional facilities:

“The new program also encourages colleges to dispatch instructors to local correctional facilities.  Cornell University noted in its pledge that it has admitted some formerly incarcerated students who started through the Cornell Prison Education Program, while North Park University in Chicago has been holding courses in a state prison in recent years and aims to be able to admit some of the participants as full students upon their release from prison.”

American Prison Data Systems, PBC can help with the extension of college education to the incarcerated because APDS is a platform for the delivery of a wide spectrum of digital content and services.  Whether it be through the use of the APDS proprietary Learning Management System, or the whitelisting and cleansing of college and university web-based material for correctional delivery, colleges and universities can reach a large audience of incarcerated offenders quickly and safely, all in a manner consistent with the highest levels of security the correctional system may require.

  • Posted Wednesday, June 8, 2016

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Observing Ramadan: The Practice of Islam in US Prisons

This month, across the United States, Muslim prisoners will rise for their early morning prayers and pre-dawn meal in observance of Ramadan. For the roughly 350,000 Muslim inmates in this country, who began their month-long fast on Sunday (June 5), the rituals of Ramadan are squeezed among the rules and routines of institutional life.

Current estimates state that as much as 15% of inmates in the United States identify as Muslim. Amidst negative cultural sentiments, and rising concerns over high conversion rates to Islam and its potential radicalization behind bars, the argument has always been polarized regarding how to treat those practicing their faith while incarcerated.

A 2014 article from the LA times explains, “What works against Muslim inmates is the politicized nature of how Islam in perceived in this country…Even when it comes to the basic practice of bona fide religious beliefs, there’s always this angle of concern about how dangerous, how political a practice might be.”

The idea that US prisons have become hubs of Islamic extremism and violence has permeated the conversation about freedom of religion in prison. And while the fear of radicalization in US prisons is not entirely unfounded, the majority of followers in prison-as in the rest of the world- are nonviolent, peaceful practitioners. Regardless, these assumptions have resulted in unfair treatment of those practicing Islam in comparison to those of the Jewish or Christian faith.

The freedom to observe Ramadan at all was only won in court fights over the past two decades. In the 1980s, a slew of cases established the right of inmates in many states to grow beards, wear robes, pray at prescribed times, be served alternatives to pork and adopt Muslim names. And it wasn’t until the early 2000’s the Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a Muslim prisoner must be given food after sundown during Ramadan. That ruling does not extend nationwide.

Moreover, in 2012, the ACLU began complaining about the treatment of Muslim inmates in various county jails, demanding their religious rituals be more fairly incorporated into prison routines. In lieu of mounting protests, efforts are being made to accommodate religious services for those practicing Islam. For example, in some jails, religious groups now receive halal meals (meat prepared according to Muslim requirements). As for Ramadan, an increasing amount of prisons are working to ensure inmates are fed a pre-dawn meal and that other religious needs are met. That said, practices vary from state to state and, within the same state, from prison to prison.

The hope is that one day, as put simply by inmate Jerlone Barnes, “We [Muslims] will be given the same benefits they give to everyone else practicing their religion.”

As we strive to create religious equality in prisons nationwide, what cannot be contested is that religion, of any form, has played a positive role in prison security and rehabilitation, with an overwhelming majority of state prison chaplains considering religious counseling and other religion-based programming an important aspect of rehabilitating prisoners. In fact, Muslims have played a huge part in shaping the legal system’s treatment of prisoners and the role of religion, generally in prison. They have initiated rehabilitation and reentry programs and fought for reform since the prisoner’s rights movement in the late 1960s.

Although American Prison Data Systems does not attribute itself to any religion or creed, our tablets offer religious texts through its National Corrections Library (NCL) as well as a host of resources that can connect inmates to faith based services offering emotional and spiritual healing.

**Note: Check out how other countries have successfully incorporated Ramadan into prisons like the Wormwood Scrubs facility in England!**

  • Posted Tuesday, May 31, 2016

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Certificates of Rehabilitation Can Help Promote Successful Re-Entry Outcomes

One of the biggest issues former offenders face upon release is the difficulty in obtaining employment with a prior conviction on the books.  Effectively, the notion that imprisonment is payment of one’s “debt to society” for criminal conduct is incorrect; the offender ends up paying for the remainder of his adult life.

As John Gleeson, US District Court Judge, wrote in a recent decision (Doe v. United States of America) in which case the plaintiff sought expungement of Gleeson’s conviction of her twelve years prior:

“The conviction has proven troublesome for Doe because it appears in the government’s databases and in the New York City Professional Database Summaries.  In other words, the conviction is visible to a prospective employer both as a result of the criminal background check and upon examination of her nursing license.  Numerous employers have denied Doe a job because of her conviction.  On more than one occasion, she was hired by a nursing agency only to have her offer revoked after the employer learned of her record … That said, I had no intention to sentence her to the unending hardship she has endured in the job market.  I have reviewed her case in painstaking detail, and I can certify that Doe has been rehabilitated.”

While expungement is deemed by legal precedent to be a remedy applicable only in “extreme circumstances”, there is an alternative to expungement available to courts: certificates of rehabilitation.

“There are two general approaches to limiting the collateral consequences of convictions: (1) the ‘forgetting’ model, in which a criminal record is deleted or expunged so that society may forget that the conviction ever happened; and (2) the ‘forgiveness’ model, which acknowledges the conviction but uses a certificate of rehabilitation or a pardon to symbolize society’s forgiveness of the underlying offense conduct.”

The certificate concept emerged from the states, notably attached to strong enforcement provisions.  New York has been especially active in this space given that “Conviction-based discrimination is unlawful unless it falls under the exceptions described in New York Correct. Law § 752”.

“A person who believes she is the victim of discrimination based on her conviction may file a claim to enforce the protections above, either through a civil action (against a public employer), or through the New York City Commission on Human Rights (against a private employer).”

New York state law (New York Correct. Law § 753) mandates that employers consider a number of factors including “(1) the public policy of the state to encourage employment of people with criminal records; (2) the specific duties and responsibilities necessarily related to the employment sought; (3) the bearing, if any, of the criminal offense underlying the conviction on the applicant’s fitness to perform the required duties and responsibilities; (4) the time that has elapsed since the offense conduct; (5) the age of the person at the time of the offense; (6) the seriousness of that offense; (7) rehabilitation and good conduct; (8) the legitimate interest of the employer in protecting property, and the safety and welfare of specific individuals or the general public.”

It is not just New York.  “Arizona, Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Georgia, Illinois, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Rhode Island, Tennessee, and Vermont, as well as Washington, D.C.” all offer some form of certificates of rehabilitation.

“As a state senator, President Obama co-authored the Illinois certificate statute, which is based on the New York program.”

A recent paper by Heather Garretson, “Legislating Forgiveness: A Study of Post-Conviction Certificates as Policy to Address the Employment Consequences of Conviction,” suggests that there are two factors that are important to the success of certificate programs: a combination of certificates with anti-discrimination legislation, as in New York with its Article 23A statutes; and (2) general awareness among both employers and the newly released.

Even without these, an experiment in which researchers in South Carolina applied for entry-level positions in the Columbus-area using “fabricated resumes with identical names, educational backgrounds, employment experience, and skills”, differentiated only by the “type of criminal record and the presence of a Certificate of Qualification for Employment (CQE)”, the certificate eliminated the effect of prior incarceration.

“Importantly, certificate-holders and their counterparts with clean criminal backgrounds were equally likely to receive an interview invitation or job offer.  These promising preliminary results suggest certificates of recovery/relief may be an effective avenue for lessening the stigma of a criminal record for ex-offenders seeking employment.”

American Prison Data Systems, PBC has an important role to play in making it easier for offenders to learn about the power of certificates of rehabilitation while they are still incarcerated or under supervised control; in identifying incarcerated individuals who may be most likely to benefit from certification; and in helping offenders apply for certification by specifically addressing the statutorily permitted exceptions to discrimination.

  • Posted Tuesday, May 31, 2016

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Mother's Day in Prison: It's About Communication

This Mother’s Day, Google released a video featuring children of incarcerated mothers, celebrating the holiday one of the many ways they can, by sharing loving messages, memories of daily life and wishes that their parents would be home with them.

Watching the video, it is hard not to notice how often the kids share mundane moments as the most beloved things about their mothers: their laugh, their jokes, one child even shares that she misses the gait of her mom’s walk. Children feel the absence of their incarcerated parent in every aspect of their life.

We know that regular communication with loved ones helps incarcerated people feel and stay connected to their families, and helps ease their transition as they reenter. It also may help reduce the impact on children to the extreme stress of having an incarcerated parent (which the Annie E. Casey Foundation just reported has “as much impact on a child’s well-being as abuse or domestic violence”).

American Prison Data Services, PBC is dedicated to finding and improving ways for children like Giavanna, Baruch and Aliyah to connect and communicate with their mothers. Read about our recently announced partnership with Kidoma–a mobile application that allows parents to read storybooks to their children anywhere in the world.

Watch Google’s Video with children of incarcerated mothers here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OwNYIww709Q