Team Ameelio


Team Ameelio

November 30, 2022


5 min read

2023 Ameelio x California Justice Tech Challenge

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2023 Ameelio x California Justice Tech Challenge

Ameelio x California - 2023 Justice Tech Challenge 

We seek California county jails and juvenile facilities to participate in a free pilot of Ameelio’s Communication and Education platforms.

What is the Ameelio Justice Tech Challenge?

What's the problem?

If you are like 1 in 3 Americans who have a loved one currently incarcerated, in most states, your ability to stay in touch with them depends on how much you could pay. People spend up to $500 a month just to be able to talk with their families or friends.

To borrow the words of CNN commentator, Van Jones,

It might be hard for you to imagine this.
But think about how desperate you would be right now, if you are locked away from your friends and families for the next ten years. How desperate you will be to be able to just call your mom? Or to be able to message your child? Or be able to talk to your spouse? How desperate would they be to be able to talk to you?
That desperation looks like profit opportunity to private companies.

We believe that the incarcerated should be able to stay in touch with their loved ones and outside support groups, regardless of whether or not they could pay.

But we also know that it is difficult for correctional facilities - especially county jails - to change their current inmate communication provider and adopt new technologies. In many cases, they do not have the bandwidth or the funding to make that much-needed change.

We want to make that change easier.

Who should apply?

Any correctional agency in the state of California could apply!

If you work in a correctional setting - whether as a sheriff, a jail warden, a facility IT personnel, an educational or reentry program coordinator, or maybe an instructor in a community college that provides classes behind bars - we welcome you to submit an application for your agency.

What you will receive?

If your agency is selected, you will receive

  • Free licenses of Ameelio's communication platform - Ameelio Connect, through which the incarcerated individuals in your agency can make free video calls, voice calls, e-messaging to their loved ones.
  • Free licenses of Ameelio's education platform - Ameelio Learn. Learn is the nation's first-ever integrated educational platform built specifically for educators and students in carceral settings. Through Learn, educators can host virtual classrooms, prepare digital resource library for students, and and communicate with students via secured messaging.
  • Pro-bono technical support from Ameelio engineering and design team to implement the platform. We have a dedicated tech team with top talents from Red Hat, Kickstarter and Meta.

What will happen next?

  • December 13, 2022 + January 17th, 2023: Attend a webinar to learn more about the challenge
  • January 31, 2023: Deadline for submitting an application.
  • March 1, 2023: Ameelio to announce the first cohort of Justice Tech Challenge winners!
  • March - April, 2023: Conduct site visits, network assessments with winners; Develop a detailed deployment plan for every winner.  
  • May 2023: Pilots start. Our evaluation and technical support teams will be having regular check-ins with you and assist with any request.
  • December 2023: The free pilots end. We will work with you to develop a scaling plan, if you would like to continue using Ameelio. We will also publish case studies and evaluation results.

Iowa Corrections officer, Mike Gass, monitoring calls on Ameelio platform

Judy White speaks with Joyce Binder over the first Connect call at the Iowa Correctional Institution for Women

Why Now

California is leading the charge in shifting the cost of phone calls away from incarcerated individuals and their loved ones. Most recently, SB1008 was passed by the State Assembly and signed into law by Governor Newsom. This law mandates that all phone calls must be free for incarcerated individuals in CDCR custody and juvenile detention facilities within California. The law also laid the foundation for and provided the path towards free communication in California county facilities in 2023. 

This is an extremely beneficial step for California. Sustained family contact while incarcerated is proven to reduce recidivism rates by up to 56%. Within the past year, more and more governments are recognizing the exorbitant prices paid by the incarcerated and their families as a huge barrier to stay connected. In the words of former FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn,

“[it is the] most egregious case of market failure I have ever seen in my 17 years as a state and federal regulator.” 

The law also presents new challenges for California correctional agencies, as the cost of these phone calls will now be shifted from the incarcerated and their families to the agencies. Other states and counties that have undergone this shift have been locked into legacy vendors and contracts charging the agency unreasonably high rates with low-quality services, due to a lack of preparation and willingness to experiment with new solutions. 

Why You Should Apply

We know that it is difficult to adopt new solutions in government technology. This is even more profound in the correctional telecommunication and education space, where there has been a duopoly of vendors providing not only products, but also network infrastructure, funding for inmate programs, and even income sources for correctional staff. From experience, we know how important it is for state and local governments to implement service pilots and smaller-scale interventions, in anticipation of policy changes. Such pilots yield important knowledge on internal demand, help agencies explore the best in the market, and avoid being locked into one vendor. 

We want to be part of the solution! As the political momentum materializes and gains prominence within California, we want to do our part in ensuring that the shift is seamless for facilities within California, by providing counties with the highest-quality, modernized technology at the lowest price. Given our mission, we created the Ameelio x California 2023 Justice Tech Challenge - to help prepare you for the upcoming changes in order to be ahead of the curve and succeed once this shift inevitably happens for county facilities.

Through our inaugural Justice Tech Challenge, your correctional agency can apply for a free pilot of Ameelio’s Communication and Education platforms, equaling at least $10,000 in budget saving

Ameelio Family Communication Suite
Ameelio Education Suite

Selected partners receive pro-bono technical support from Ameelio engineering and design team with top talents from Red Hat, Kickstarter and Meta, as well as Ameelio’s network of leading academic researchers, foundation partners and technology consultants from California Policy Lab, UChicago, and Schmidt Futures. More importantly, they will join the first cohort of local jurisdictions that champion evidence-based, cost-cutting and recidivism-reducing criminal justice solutions, establishing best practices for jurisdictions across the country. 

We’re looking for mission-aligned partners who are eager to be among the first to transform the current state of jail communication and rehabilitative programming. By investing at the local level, we are ready to pave the way towards reduced recidivism by replicating our equity- and evidence-based technological solution across the country.

Who We Are

Ameelio is a technology non-profit leading the charge in democratizing access to telecommunication and education technology for the incarcerated. Founded on the recognition of the high cost of communication for incarcerated individuals and the impact that has on rehabilitation and recidivism, we are the only non-profit provider in the industry. 

Our mission is to create a more rehabilitative corrections system. To this end, we provide no-to-low cost, high quality, hardware-agnostic communication and education platforms.

Our communication suite provides voice, video, e-messaging and visitation scheduling services to DOCs and county jails across the nation. Our education suite enables access to post-secondary, secondary and adult basic education as well as evidence-based rehabilitative programming through a Learning Management System, a digital resource library, and a secure communication platform specific to educators.  

Our Current State & County Partners

We’re proud to partner with these agencies towards providing safer, more rehabilitative corrections systems at both state and local levels. As of 2022, our communications platform is scaling three state prison systems in Iowa, Colorado and Maine, representing 35 prisons and 32,000 incarcerated people. We’re simultaneously due to provide our educational solution within facilities in Mississippi, Rhode Island, Maineand the New Orleans Parish in Louisiana. 

Ameelio Mail, our first product and mobile app that bypasses the absurdly high cost of making phone calls to prison by converting texts, photos, games & news to snail mail, has just reached 1.1 million users around the world (350,000 incarcerated users and over 600,000 families). Our users have sent over 1.5 million mail pieces in all 50 U.S. states and 42 countries. 

You can read about our user testimonials, from both DOC staff and users, below: 
Executive Director Dean Williams - Colorado
Correctional Officer Mike Gass - Iowa
Incarcerated User's Stories 

Our Funders and Supporter Network

As a technology start-up, Ameelio knows how to experiment, learn and iteratively improve. We are supported by the best at doing it: Ameelio is one of the twelve innovative teams of the Schmidt Futures inaugural class of “Social Safety Net Product Studio” grantees, aiming at accelerating innovation and open access to over $100 million in safety net benefits for low-income families across the country. We are also funded by Arnold Ventures, True Ventures, and MIT Elevate Prize. 

Our interventions are evaluated by researchers from top institutions and labs in the country. Drs. Nour Abdul-Razzak and Ashna Arora from the University of Chicago, Dr. Panka Bencsik from Vanderbilt University, and Omair Gill from the California Policy Lab compose the research team evaluating and monitoring Ameelio's solutions.

Apply to the Challenge

State and local governments that are interested in participating Ameelio’s pilots are encouraged to submit an application by January 31, 2023. 

For more information about the Ameelio x California 2023 Justice Tech Challenge, you may register here for upcoming webinars on December 13th and January 17th. Recordings of the webinars will be made available on the Ameelio website. If you have any questions related to the Challenge or how to apply, feel free to reach out to our team at

Ameelio in the news…

* Bloomberg: Can a Nonprofit Disrupt the Pricey Prison Phone Industry?

* Fast Company World Changing Ideas 2021: This app is making it free for incarcerated people to make video calls

* The New York Times: 2021 Good Tech Awards

* Tech Crunch: Ameelio’s free video calling service for inmates goes live at first facilities


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