Village Capital

Redefining Criminal and Civil Justice Tech


AmFam and VilCap


Village Capital and the American Family Institute for Corporate and Social Impact are partnering on a project to investigate entrepreneurial solutions to challenges faced by individuals and families affected by the US justice system. The project is focused on defining “Criminal and Civil Justice Tech”** specifically centered on exploring how technology can potentially reduce racial and economic disparities in the criminal and civil justice system while taking a human-centered approach to helping people (including but not limited to):

  • Navigate the pre-trial and sentencing process

  • Stay mentally and physically healthy while incarcerated

  • Support social and emotional well-being, including family and child communication

  • Attain educational goals and valuable skills while incarcerated

  • Find economic opportunity and resources upon re-entry

“If you are going to be a corporate citizen and be a corporate socially responsible citizen, you have to take a look at all the social issues that are happening, you can’t just engage in the ones that may be more comfortable for individuals,” said Nyra Jordan, social impact investment director for the AmFam Institute. “We need to keep educating ourselves to understand the impact the criminal justice system as well as mass incarceration has on our communities. And when we at American Family Insurance say we inspire protect or restore dreams -- with this work, we're saying that counts for everybody.”

The backbone of our justice system is supposed to be that every person is treated equally and given due process, equal respect and an equal chance for rehabilitation. Even so, a history of biased policy around and within the criminal and civil justice system has too often stacked the odds against communities of color and low income communities. Over-policing and surveillance, prohibitively expensive cash bail and legal services, disproportionate sentencing, and lack of reentry and family support are only a few of the systems contributing to the disproportionate number of people of color and low-income individuals arrested, jailed prior to trial, sentenced to serve time, and then ultimately sent back into the same cycle after release. At the same time, the criminal justice system has created a lucrative industry worth at least $182B as private companies have become suppliers of healthcare, entertainment, communications, and financial services (among others) to a group of captive consumers with few alternatives. 

Over the past five years a new wave of startups has emerged aimed at modernizing the criminal and civil justice system, better supporting those affected, and disrupting existing monopolies, often framed around the promise of reducing disparities. However, it’s no secret that this space is fraught with ethical concerns as entrepreneurs and impact investors seek to reduce harm while playing by existing industry, policy and regulatory mandates. The challenge remains--How can you change the system and help those caught within it without tying your investment’s return or company’s future to the continued existence of that system?

This investigation and research will be informed and steered by an Advisory Board made up of national leaders such as activists, investors, and entrepreneurs working in and around prison and criminal and civil justice change. In early September, we convened the Advisory Board in a virtual Summit to discuss how to move forward in defining criminal and civil justice tech from an ethical, human-centered perspective (here's what we heard at the Summit). Learn more about our Advisory Board and their work below.

We will release the culminating market assessment research which will highlight:

  • The most pressing problems facing those impacted by the criminal and civil justice system that can be addressed by technology-enabled startups as identified by our Advisory Board

  • Exploration of the opportunities and challenges of different business models within this industry

  • Challenges facing entrepreneurs building justice-oriented startups

  • Notable ethical challenges/opportunities for the application of technology and private financing to these challenges  

Entrepreneurs: Interested in highlighting how you support individuals and families impacted by the criminal and civil justice system? Fill out a brief form on our Abaca platform.

Impact investors and criminal and civil justice tech advocates: Interested in learning more? Sign up for updates on the project and forthcoming market assessment here.

**It is important for us to recognize that Justice Tech is a larger domain of entrepreneurship that can encompass racial, environmental, LGBTQIA+, and economic justice among others. The area we will be exploring with this partnership is the ways in which Justice Tech intersects with the US criminal and civil justice system. We would like to echo calls from intersectional leaders that it is important to not narrow the conversation of justice solely to criminal and civil justice to the detriment of a holistic perspective including other systems.