Jay-Z’s Roc Nation Invests in Bail Reform Startup

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On Father’s Day of 2017, Jay-Z wrote an article for TIME on the egregious shortcomings of the criminal justice system, focusing particularly on the flaws of the bail industry. In the article, he discussed how people can be arrested and incarcerated for months at a time awaiting trial if they can’t afford bail, even if they are not guilty of a crime. In addition, he notes that bail bond agreements are often structured in an exploitive and predatory manner, taking advantage of those who may already have been facing financial difficulties to begin with. This, combined with the fact that many of those with a darker complexion are over-policed, illustrates an urgent crisis.

This article came on the heels of the release of Time: The Kalief Browder Story, a documentary Jay-Z co-produced that detailed the story of a young man who was wrongfully imprisoned on Rikers Island and eventually committed suicide. He’s also announced his involvement in the production of a documentary series focusing on Trayvon Martin, set to air in July of 2018. Just recently, Jay-Z made his next move in bringing about social justice.

Jay-Z’s company Roc Nation has just announced its involvement in Promise, a startup company focused on de-carceration. TechCrunch.com says the following in their description of Promise:

“[Promise] offers counties and local governments an alternative to holding low-risk people behind bars simply because they can’t afford bail. For each participant, Promise provides counties with a comprehensive intake procedure and then sets up each participant with a care plan specific to them. Promise will then monitor and support participants by helping them ensure they know when they’re supposed to appear in court, and remind them of obligations like drug testing or substance abuse treatment needed. The app also helps participants access job training, housing, counseling and referrals.

TIDAL X: Jay-Z B-sides in NYC on May 17, 2015 in New York City.

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Promise is currently one of the startups focused on by Y-Combinator, a prestigious Silicon Valley-based seed accelerator that focuses on launching small startup companies. In a recent round of fundraising, Promise has raised over $3 million with the help of Roc Nation, as well as other companies like 8VC and Kapor Kapital.

Any sense of this being a large figure is instantly dwarfed when one takes into account that $9 billion is wasted a year incarcerating people who have not been convicted of crimes, a figure that was noted in one of the op-ed pieces written by Jay-Z. Here’s more statistics for good measure: people who can’t afford bail account for roughly 62% of the current jail population in the U.S., and it costs about $38 million a day to keep this population behind bars, according to the Pretrial Justice Institute.

“We are increasingly alarmed by the injustice in our criminal justice system,” Jay-Z said in a statement. “Money, time and lives are wasted with the current policies. It’s time for an innovative and progressive technology that offers sustainable solutions to tough problems. Promise’s team, led by Phaedra, is building an app that can help provide ‘liberty and justice for all’ to millions.”

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