Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins

Non-violent offenders under community supervision can use her app to keep track of court dates and stay out of jail.

The Platform Economy
Diana Frappier
 Photo Credit: Courtesy subject

After a career in startups and the music industry—one job was helping Prince secure his digital rights—Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins saw a loved one go through a complex and harrowing experience after missing a court date. He had bounty-hunters after him mainly because he didn’t know who to call to reschedule his appearance. Ellis-Lamkins teamed up with longtime lawyer Diana Frappier to remedy a flawed system that saw nonviolent offenders pay fines and await trial behind bars because they couldn’t afford bail or a lawyer. They called it Promise; its pitch was to take over parts of the local criminal-justice apparatus and provide individuals with an app and automated check-in process that keeps track of court dates and paperwork. Before even graduating from startup incubator Y Combinator in 2018, this audacious little company had raised $3 million in funding from the likes of Jay-Z’s Roc Nation and First Round Capital. Recently it has been working with Alameda County in California, as well as localities in Kentucky and North Dakota, and appearance rates--essentially, showing up when you’re supposed to in court--have increased by nearly 25 percent. “The system is fundamentally broken based on race and class,” Ellis-Lamkins says. She’s aiming to even the field, and help fix a system that penalizes those without means. --Christine Lagorio-Chafkin