Root & Rebound @ Optimizely Volunteer Day

What was the problem that your technology needs to address?

At Root & Rebound, we have a bold vision: to ensure that all people in reentry from prison and jail across the United States, and those who support them through the process have the tools, knowledge, and resources they need to successfully reintegrate into their communities, fully equipped to meet their self-defined measures of success in employment, housing, education, family reunification and financial stability.

With 2.2 million people incarcerated in the United States today, 7.3 million on probation or parole or some other form of correctional supervision, there are more than 688,000 people nationally and 50,000 people in California returning home from prison and jail each year. One in three Americans has a criminal record. With such an immense number of people in reentry, we understand that in order to reach people on a large scale, we have to break away from the traditional one-to- one client attorney model, and build a model of public education to help people navigate these issues. To truly address the “justice gap” that exists in California and across the country (with only one legal aid attorney for every 8,000 indigent people, and even fewer for those navigating reentry), we need to harness the power of technology to make our vision a reality.

The state of California, whose prison population has grown by 750% since the mid‐1970s, is under court orders to relieve over-crowding by releasing tens of thousands of people. Across California, more than 50,000 people per year return home from prison and jail, and one in four people have a criminal record. Each person coming home faces thousands of barriers across all areas of life due to systemic disenfranchisement: employment discrimination, occupational licensing bans, denial of public benefits, exclusion from housing, and misapplied parole rules that prevent people with criminal records from becoming healthy, productive members of their families and communities. The American Bar Association has determined that nationally, people with criminal convictions face up to 44,000 federal, state, and local restrictions because of their records—not including illegal discrimination. Reentry becomes a lifelong battle—getting a job and keeping a job, going back to school and staying in school, getting housing, looking after children, and keeping housing.

Specifically, Root & Rebound is looking to expand our capacity to support thousands more people in reentry across California, and nationally and meet the high and growing demand for our services and content, through interactive online content so that thousands more in reentry will be able to access the Roadmap to Reentry material and use it to empower themselves and those who support them throughout the reentry process.

What was the specific work the technical volunteers engaged in? What kinds of coding languages / frameworks did they use?

The technical volunteers worked hard to develop a HTML searchable, user-friendly version of the “Roadmap to Reentry” guide (right now we just host a PDF document online). The volunteers were working on designing and implementing a searchable live in-browser version of the guide (e.g something similar to www.gov.uk) that is easy to navigate and breaks down the information by subject matter and even questions, so that users can find information quickly and learn more about next steps in their reentry process.

On the day, the volunteers achieved the following:
Proved that R&R can easily digitize the PDF into WordPress articles
Use Mammoth parser to convert Microsoft Word documents to HTML
This helps to tag design elements like Popouts, bubbles, alert boxes, whatever with HTML classes – these can be styled later
Mapped out the information architecture to mirror gov.uk site (to create information tree)
Migrated the Housing chapter into WordPress with the correct hierarchy of information
Hierarchy:
Master Page / Chapter (essentially a page with an intro, table of contents)
Page
SubPage
Designed a mockup of the landing page with the Search box and higher level pages.

How do you think Volunteer Hacks with Code Alliance and Optimizely help move the field of humanitarian tech forward?

Volunteer Hacks with Code Alliance and Optimizely can often be the much-needed catalyst that nonprofits need in order to meet the needs of the communities they serve! For Root & Rebound — as start-up reentry advocacy center, that works to support and empower the huge numbers of people in reentry, their loved ones, and advocates that need access to legal and practical information about their rights in reentry and the barriers they will face, we are constantly challenged with the tension of creating impressive, substantive and approachable website materials, on a shoe string budget!

Our small but mighty team is consistently pushing the boundaries and trying to make all our resources and services technologically accessible and appropriate, so we can reach a wider audience, but with a small staff, there is never enough time, or capacity as we would like for each Root & Rebound team member to build our web content and innovate through our online platform.

By building lasting relationships with amazing partners such as Code Alliance and socially minded tech companies, Root & Rebound can achieve so much more. Thanks to this partnership, we are now able to envision and create powerful technological tools such as the Roadmap to Reentry searchable browser that can empower the thousands of people who are impacted by incarceration each year in California.

Aiasha Khalid

Benetech.org Technology Serving Humanity

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