Prison Voicemail graduated from Cambridge Social Ventures in January 2017.
Prison Voicemail is an innovative voicemail service facilitating easier communication between prisoners and their families. Research shows that prisoners who are able to maintain contact or build better relationships with family members are less likely to reoffend than those that don’t. Prison Voicemail aims to help strengthen prisoners’ family ties, and in doing so, help prisons to reduce reoffending rates.
Prison Voicemail evolved from a chance meeting of its founders at a local business networking event in Norwich, where Alex showed Kieran the application he had developed to enable his son to call him without using the credit on his phone. The pair began to think about the potential social impact of this technology amongst groups of excluded individuals, forced for whatever reason to use phones in a restrictive manner.
“It didn’t take long before we started to look at prisoners and the difficulties they face staying in touch with their families. There are often long queues for the limited number of phones on a prison wing, and the chances of the other person being available to talk when you do call is small,” explains Alex.
With research, such as Ormiston Families’ Dads Inside & Out report, evidencing the impact of sustaining relationships with family members on reducing reoffending rates, there is little doubt of the potential social impact of the Prison Voicemail technology.
“We set up several investigative meetings with prisons. The potential our technology has to allow prisoners to pick up and leave voicemails for family members, with family members picking up the costs at an affordable (and where possible, subsidised) rate became clear,” Alex advises.
Prison Voicemail does not require any hardware or installation it works with the prison phone system. It enables prisoners to exchange voicemail messages with verified, pre-approved individuals on the outside using the existing prison phone system. It’s secure, affordable, and easy-to-use.
Alex Redston is a social entrepreneur with a background in information systems and security. Among other technology based enterprises, Alex previously set up Mices, walk-in internet shops that took on Virgin Space in Oxford – and won.
Kieran Harrington-Ball has eight years’ experience in technology platforms and social enterprise startups, including key global microfinance providers Vittana Foundation, Microworld and Kiva.org, and four years’ experience in financial services. He is also a qualified management accountant with an MSc in risk management.
Prison Voicemail enables family members to stay in touch with loved ones in prison. Strengthening family ties with prisoners has been shown to reduce reoffending rates. Voicemails are a substitute for physical letters which need to be checked and hand-delivered, thereby reducing workload for prison staff.
Lincoln University, in association with Lincolnshire Action Trust (LAT), has seconded a PhD student to work on a social impact framework for Prison Voicemail. With the potential for future releases of the product to including voice print analysis (enabling the recognition and reporting of certain mood indicators, such as anxiety) it is possible that this technology will be making an even greater impact than originally imagined.
Already employing two full-time staff, having gained a presence in half of the prisons in East Midlands, Alex and Kieran are keen to gain a strong foothold in all UK prisons before promoting the service more widely afield. Shortlisted for a UKTI Explore Export Award, Alex and Kieran have global plans for this emerging social brand.