When Brian Hill was young, his father taught classes at Folsom State Prison in California for the inmates. Hill would read the essays the inmates wrote and discovered that there was tremendous human potential locked behind bars. It was these essays that were the first motivation for Hill to create Jail Education Solutions, now Edovo.
The goal is to bring daily opportunities for rehabilitation into the hands of the incarcerated. “I was watching this guy play the piano”, Hill recalls from a recent prison visit, “and I thought ‘if we could just get these guys out of jail, we’d have experts.’”
There are about two and a quarter million people in jail on a daily basis. In total, twelve million people cycle through jails every year, one of the highest numbers in the world. Many of them will leave jail only to return within a few years. That tremendous population often wastes away without anything to be productive towards, without anything to choose, without anything to learn. Instead, they watch television.
Rather than taking inmates out of jail, Hill is using technology to bring education in. Using a modified tablet with a secure wireless internet network, inmates can choose their own courses to study. Edovo provides lessons on GED preparation, math, psychology, reading, religion, and legal proceedings among others designed to assist participants for life. The top five courses are a reading and language arts course, two math courses, behavioral therapy, and Christian studies.
When Edovo goes into a facility, the entire dynamic changes. Instead of spending time watching daytime television or playing cards, inmates begin to have intellectual conversations. “I walked into a facility in California the other day and they were talking about math! I’ve never walked into a facility where they were talking about math,” Hill said.
The theory is that more education and autonomy are the key to decreasing recidivism, or the likeliness someone returns to jail. Hill has worked directly with corrections officers to address solutions believed to be effective. Corrections officers have been excited by the possibilities of success.
Bret Prebula, the staff services manager at Napa County Jail is a corrections officers working with Hill. “We immediately noticed that they are disrupters, and that was very appealing to us,” he says. “If we use this device…we have a higher chance of really rolling recidivism throughout our criminal justice system.”
“It is almost like a David and Goliath type of process. They have gone in with this educational process and disrupted the industry. As Elon Musk was a disrupter to the car industry, and Apple has been to the computer industry, Brian is doing that in inmate education.”
Edovo can be provided at a fraction of a percent of what an inmate costs per day. It can be subsidized by inmate’s phone calls or commissary. This allows any use of taxpayer dollar to be avoided. Some sheriffs have used the department’s own budget to provide the program.
Edovo is still early in the process though. Last year, it was accepted in a few Pennsylvanian facilities at first before spreading through California, Illinois and continuing into more states like Alabama. While the statistics are not strong yet, it is clear that violence has decreased while good behavior and education rates have increased in facilities working with Edovo. These are early indicators that recidivism should decrease. To be certain though, Hill has partnered with the University of Chicago crime lab to scientifically study the impact Edovo is having.
Whenever someone praises Hill for coming up with such an innovative solution, he is disappointed, “It’s not rocket science…we should have been doing this ten years ago.”
Innovative or not, Hill is implementing a solution that could change the country and affect millions of lives. And that is what Hill is trying to do with his life. “Fundamentally, I love to solve problems,” he says, “I want to make strong change in this space and then I want to go and take that and have the same results in other areas of life. I think we need change in this world.”
Hill credits his BYU education for helping to prepare him to create change. “BYU breeds entrepreneurs…the desire to build and make a significant difference in the world comes from the concept of Enter to Learn; Go Forth to Serve.”
While still a student, Hill entered into the social venture competition his senior year. With his project, he traveled to India and over a couple of years consulted with non-government organizations and non-profits. Hill helped create financial independence and build self-sufficiency through business programs. This all prepared Hill to understand the necessity of changing the world and how to do it.
“Don’t underestimate your ability…,” he says, “and recognize your ability to make significant changes in the world. Every successful business is just a couple people standing up and leading; it changes the course of history.”
“And we [Edovo] are going to do it,” Hill adds.