Frederick Hutson is a former convict who has started the social enterprise Pigeonly, which uses IT technology to help inmates in the United States keep in touch with their friends and family.
Pigeonly is an IT platform that offers cost-saving services to inmates.
Pigeonly is basically a range of features that help families keep in touch with their loved ones, who are in jail.
Currently, it includes Fotopigeon, which allows inmates to receive hard-copy photos printed from phone, computer or tablet, and Telepigeon, which allows inmates to make cheap calls to their loved ones rather than having to make expensive long-distance calls. The telephone service, which works in the same way as Google and Skype, is a significantly cheaper alternative to what the prisons otherwise offer. Typically, a detainee pays 70 dollars a month for the 300 minutes call on the phone, that they are entitled to by law. At Pigeonly, 300 minutes on the phone costs 18 dollars.
Pigeonlys’s platform also includes a comprehensive database of inmates in 50 state prisons, enabling families to locate inmates without having to go through the databases of individual states.
The services offered may not look like much, but for the inmates they can make a big difference.
Frederick Hutson from the beginning considered the project as a business and always assumed that people would pay a few dollars to receive a photo and to be able to make cheaper phone calls. And it looks like he was right.
Today, Pigeonly has 13 employees at its Las Vegas headquarters, which is part of Tony Hsieh’s Downtown Project. The project has been able to raise more than 2 million dollars in start-up capital.
Salesfigures also show that Pigeonly’s services are popular.
Fotopigeon has send more than 90.000 photos to 11.000 customers at 0.5 dollar each. And more than 30.000 customers have used Telepigeon (subscriptions are available from 5 dollars a month).
600-700 people sign up daily for Pigeonly and the company sends between 3-4.000 orders every day.
Telepigeon mediates somewhere between 2-3 million minutes a month.
The company currently (2020) has subscribers to its services in 88 countries worldwide.
Since its inception, Hutson has expanded with additional services, e.g. you can now also send letters, postcards, greeting cards and articles to inmates. Pigeonly also offers to help inmates with other types of services such as. banking services and housing offers after release.
The ideas for the services is inspired from Hutson own time in prison. It was here he experienced how difficult it is for the family to keep in touch with the inmate.
He was transferred to 8 different prisons when he was incarcerated. This often made it difficult for his family to keep track of where he was.
With Pigeonly, Hudson would like to make an effort to democratize and decentralize the criminal justice system. Among other things, he sees corporate action as a way of preventing recidivism.
By making it easier for inmates to stay in touch with their family, Pigeonly also encourages inmates to stay away from crime. And his idea is backed by research.
Observations from 40 years of research show that communication and education are the two factors that affect the percentage of recidivism the most. Isolation is one of the worst things a human being can experience.
To further enhance Pigeonly’s impact, Hudson would like to open up the platform to other companies’ products and services that can help address some of the issues and challenges in the prison system.
The important question, according to Hudson, is: What kind of people do we want to release? Someone who has lost contact with everyone they know and who has more than a 50% chance of committing crime again? Or someone who is in contact with people, who can help and support their integration back into society?
Hudson’s questions is important, because 1 in 3 people in the United States are affected by the criminal justice system. The former convicts who come out of the prison system are going to have an impact on other people, communities and tax spending. Therefore, everything else being said, it is important that the prison system supports, that it is the best possible version of these people, that returns to society again after serving their sentences.
Read more about Pigeonly at: https://pigeonly.com
This publication has been prepared within SENBS project No. 2020-1-EE01-KA204-077999. The content of this publication is the sole responsibility of the project coordinator and may not always reflect the views of the European Commission or the National Agency.