LinkedOut: Humanizing Returning Citizens
Role: Project Lead, UX Designer, Design Ethnographer
At a Glance
LinkedOut aims to define and build solutions to facilitate societal reentry for formerly incarcerated individuals.
In partnership with the Office of Returning Citizens (ORC), an office under the City of Boston that facilitates reentry, LinkedOut is working to design a reentry infrastructure to shut the revolving door of incarceration and reincarceration.
Our work seeks to break down the structural and societal barriers to successful reentry. At the structural level, we are building technologies to develop richer data biographies of the lives of returning citizens and in doing so, provide policymakers with the robust data required for effective reentry programs. Importantly, our goal is to embed values in technology design to humanize the reentry process. On the societal level, we have begun to expose the holes in the moral fabric of society as we draw attention to the dehumanization and stigmatization of returning citizens. These invisible societal norms disempower returning citizens from rebuilding their lives. Our work, thus, demands a reimagination of our current justice system - one that rehabilitates rather than retributes, that embraces rather than excludes - to design for a successful reentry journey.
The prison industrial complex is massive in scope and scale. In the United States, approximately 2.3 million people are held behind bars at any one time. Yet, these figures represent only a fraction of the number of people under correctional control. The U.S. justice system controls 7 million people, 3.7 million of which are on probation, with another 840,000 on parole. These numbers are staggering and account for 25% of the global prison population, though the U.S. population represents just 5% of the world’s population.
While the machinery of mass incarceration has garnered much press, less discussed is the number of people being released from correctional facilities. Each year, approximately 650,000 formerly incarcerated individuals are released from prisons and jails, with 95% of people incarcerated in state prisons returning to society at some point. More often than not, these individuals face severe challenges in reentering society and are unprepared to deal with the demands of everyday life. From struggles with navigating public transport and new technologies to getting a job and securing housing, the barriers to reentry are aplenty.
I’m currently conducting ethnographic research at the Office of Returning Citizens (ORC). The office is run by returning citizens for returning citizens. I spend a day every week sitting in on case interviews, speaking with returning citizens, spending time in the office to understand the nuances of the reentry process.
These research insights are then translated into design principles and conceptual prototypes.
In addition to conducting ethnographic research, I conduct other forms of primary research via conversations/interviews/conferences with and by others working in the prison reform space. Desk research is also important in scoping out other potential solutions from other fields/industries.
95% of individuals released from prison and jails reenter society.
However, data on their societal reentry process is scant. Without robust data, policymakers and support organizations are unable to develop the support infrastructure required for successful reentry, misdirecting government resources. Further, these incomplete datasets obscure the everyday lived experiences of returning citizens.
Our work aims to humanize technology to develop richer data biographies to the lives of returning citizens. We seek to develop new metrics to assess reentry; moving away from measuring recidivism to mapping human resilience in the face of adversities. In doing so, we hope to provide new ways of understanding and assessing the societal reentry process for returning citizens, with the aim of designing and demanding more effective reentry programs and policies.
Next Steps for Spring 2019
Define metrics for resilience
Build metrics into CRM, incorporating a process redesign to streamline work processes at the ORC
Develop case management model
Build an accountability tool/app for returning citizens that allows for community-driven data, whilst being cautious of not perpetuating state surveillance
Technology needs to be baked with human values. One of my key takeaways from my work thus far is the importance of recentering humanity in our tech designs. Technology is political and hence, we need to be mindful of intentionally designing technology that serves humanity and not the other way round.
Meaningful change requires patience. Working in a tech culture of "Move Fast Break Things ", there is an undercurrent of hyper-speed when it comes to building products and seeing the immediate results of those projects. Yet, bringing about any kind of change is a slow and long process. I’m learning a lot about patience; being patient in building trust with my collaborators at the office and being patient with myself in finding meaningful solutions to the complex problems that we've uncovered.