Nucleos puts secure, tablet-powered education in the hands of inmates

Inmates in correctional facilities across the country have varying degrees of opportunity to prepare for life after release. Nucleus is a startup that hopes to make the kind of e-learning tools we often take for granted available to inmates with a service that’s all free for them to use.

There are many barriers between inmates and the resources they may want or need, but in this case what happened is that in-facility technology has not caught up with the web-oriented educational platforms outside of world.

Consider all the educational content available online in lectures, free courses, and things like entire online community colleges and trade schools. It’s just one click – if you have a computer you can always use it less restricted for security reasons. It’s a tragedy-of-the-commons situation: if 99 inmates use a resource for normal things, and the 100th manages to break a rule or law in it, the better that you believe it is locked.

“Without a solution like Nucleos, almost 95% of digital e-learning and training material cannot be used in prisons or jails for security reasons. What sets us apart is that we manage all aspects of security, ensuring that all e-learning programs are delivered safely and securely. At the same time, we disable any components that enable illicit external communication,” said co-founder and CEO Noah Freedman.

They do not make tablets or educational materials, but act as a one stop shop for bringing things to the facilities. Nucleos also tracks courses and credentials so a person can be prepared to use them during re-entry and their job search.

The Nucleos admin interface.

Some well-resourced prisons may have something like this, but most don’t, and even if they do, it may be a solution that charges inmates. Like Ameelio, Nucleos found a better, more modern way to provide something the inmates needed, and to do it for free.

The company works with facilities and authorities to provide tablets to inmates with access to e-learning resources, as well as authorized media such as e-books and movies through the library system – and, in the future, maybe also things like video calls and messaging. .

It’s not free to operate, of course. The “reentry-as-a-service” program is supported by public money, like via San Francisco’s “People Over Profits” program.. And Nucleos recently raised $3 million in private investment and grants to keep the lights on while pursuing more deals. iT1, Western Governors University Labs, ScaleGood Fund, and Sanjay Srivastava provided the capital. It also recently reclassified itself as a public benefit corporation.

There is always a risk in situations like this, however, that a self-serve, tech-based option replaces personal or more diverse resources. For example, a prison may limit in-person visits if video calling becomes popular and reap the benefit of increased per-minute payments (often paid by families of low-income inmates). I asked Freedman if he thought this was a risk to a program like Nucleos.

“Technology is coming to prisons and jails, and I don’t see it as a trend that can be stopped, or at least not without more negative than positive consequences,” he said. “Our model, and I think the best approach, is to work with existing partners in human education and give them digital tools to support their programs, but do not replace them. The bad The truth though is that many people are denied access to programming in person today, because they are home alone, or have limited classroom space, or assigned schedules. jobs for incarcerated people that conflict with class hours. In many states maybe only 5% of the population has access to classroom programming.”

“I think the best model here is a mixed model, with teachers and personal stakeholders and partners in the driver’s seat, working with a technology partner who is aligned with their vision and motivated to produce strong learning and after the release of the results, and ensure that the facilities remain on-board with full support for human classes,” he continued. “Where the state colleges are leading the way in bringing technology for their programs, I think it is important for them to work with the DOCs directly to ensure that the appropriate guidelines and regulations are adopted by the DOC that facilitates more access and digital support without compromising personal opportunities. .

Freedman also points out that many inmates have low digital literacy for a number of reasons, and simply providing a digital tool such as a modern tablet and online learning interface is itself an important lesson. .

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