Recidiviz x KidsMates
By Joshua Martoma, Age 15
Today, KidsMates is exploring the ways in which technology can drive positive change in criminal justice reform. Our guest is Andrew Warren, co-founder and Head of Product at Recidiviz. Recidiviz is a social nonprofit seeking a “smaller, fairer” prison system. It’s also a tech startup pioneering “modern data infrastructure and thoughtful product design” to reform federal and state prison regulations.
Andrew has an enviable tech background. He previously worked at Google, WeWork, and Sidewalk Labs in key product leadership positions. Andrew could have gone anywhere in tech after being at those institutions but chose a social mission based on childhood experiences with justice-involved individuals and a belief that everyone can help make a difference. Keep reading, and you’ll learn more about Andrew’s awesome work.
Recidiviz’s basic software helps prisons, parole boards, and probation sort through fragmented spreadsheets and databases to identify ways that the justice system can help move people safely back into their communities. Recidiviz also offers a forecasting tool (called “Spark”) popular with activists to help forecast the effects of potential policy changes. One Recidiviz study, for example, estimates $78-87 billion in lost GDP through the unemployment of justice-involved individuals after incarceration; it describes how children and families of affected individuals are the hardest hit by such practices. Other Recidiviz studies have analyzed the impact of eliminating mandatory minimums, reducing probation periods, and reclassifying offenses.
Andrew and his co-founders started Recidiviz as an internal project at Google before spinning out on their own through outside funding. Their list of grant supporters is as diverse as the personalities inside. Three factors appear to be driving the increased demand for Recidiviz’s services in recent months. First, the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the huge safety problems of prison overcrowding. Second, increased public support for racial and social justice are forcing criminal justice officials to reexamine how their policies contribute to structural racism and social inequities. Third, states are facing increasing budgetary pressures leading to downward pressure on correction costs. The Recidiviz team sees a world in which less government and taxpayer money is spent on prisons and, instead, used to address root problems in education, mental health and substance abuse problems. It’s an ambitious goal, but one that Andrew and his teammates seem more than prepared to address. Please join me in welcoming our guest, Mr. Andrew Warren.
Joshua: Hello, Andrew. Thank you for joining KidsMates today for this virtual conversation. We’re so excited to learn more about what you’ve been up to. Let’s start by discussing what got you involved with the criminal justice system and Recidiviz? What’s your origin story?
Andrew: Hi, Joshua. Criminal justice was a fact of life growing up. I had a cousin who went to prison pretty young and spent a long time there. I had an uncle who ended up passing away because of drug use, and another uncle with pretty significant mental health issues that sometimes made him threaten my cousins and family. All of this was hard for my parents to explain to me and my sisters when we were little.
I mention drugs and mental health alongside prison because, in the US, we tend to