The Business Case for Serving the Incarcerated
While serving a 51-month prison sentence, Frederick Hutson identified an underserved population and a major market opportunity: inmates.
Studies have revealed that one of the most effective ways to reduce recidivism is to keep inmates in close contact with their friends and family on the outside. However, the prison system does very little to facilitate these connections. Enter Pigeonly, a Las Vegas-based startup with a suite of services to help prisoners stay in touch.
Though email and social media have become two of the primary ways that people communicate in the outside world, most prisoners do not have access to these services. Pigeonly offers users the ability to send printed photos, online articles and websites, letters, and greeting cards to inmates — just as most of us typically do over the Internet. Pigeonly takes care of the printing and mailing and uses its unique inmate locator database to ensure that the materials reach their recipient, even if the inmate gets transferred to another facility.
Additionally, prisons typically contract with only one phone company, which means prisoners have long been subject to very high long-distance rates for calls to the outside. Pigeonly’s voice service uses VoIP to provide local numbers to inmates, substantially reducing the cost of a phone call, saving families money and making frequent conversations more affordable.
Each month, the company’s customers use more than 2 million phone minutes and send more than 250,000 photos. With over $5 million in venture capital investments to-date and a prisoner population of over 1.5 million in the US, the model shows tremendous potential to scale.