The Commission to Reimagine the Future of New York’s Courts established the Pandemic Practices Working Group (PPWG) to investigate, evaluate, and report on the successes of, and challenges faced by, the state court system during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. To that end, the PPWG held its first Public Hearing on Pandemic Practices on June 7th, 2022 in Albany, New York. This hearing served an agenda-setting purpose for the PPWG, highlighting the most pressing issues facing stakeholders within the state court system. Thirty-seven witnesses participated from across New York State to share their unique perspectives.
Staying in touch with loved ones has become more important today than ever before. While technology offers many ways to stay in contact, incarcerated individuals face barriers to communication. Several prisons have paused in-person visitation due to the COVID-19 pandemic. A phone call can cost up to $25, creating a financial burden for many families of the incarcerated. As the United States, which incarcerates more individuals than any other country, confronts the challenges of its criminal justice system, Proskauer’s pro bono client Ameelio, a nonprofit organization, is working to facilitate communication between incarcerated individuals and their families by removing cost barriers.
Ameelio’s Founder, Uzoma Orchingwa, explains below how he is finding innovative ways to keep people connected, no matter the cost.
Could you briefly explain how Ameelio works?
Ameelio serves as a technological bridge to the outside world for incarcerated individuals. We have three core products, our mobile application where loved ones can upload letters, postcards and photos for incarcerated individuals. Our second product is Letters for Organizations, where Ameelio helps organizations, like ministries, rehab groups, and educators send mass mail to prisons. Our third product is “Connect,” which is a videoconferencing tool we are launching in April 2021.
On March 15, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the city’s public schools would close in response to the evolving COVID-19 pandemic. Overnight, more than 1,700 schools and over one million students and their families shifted to remote-learning curriculums. Since then, all NYC public schools have closed for the remainder of the academic year. For some families, the shift has been manageable, but for many others, it’s impractical. Without the technology needed for remote-learning, thousands of students remain isolated from their teachers and classmates. Recent reporting states that roughly 16% of NYC students lack daily communication with their schools. The Department of Education has committed to providing internet-connected tablets to families in need, a number that by late-April surpassed more than 70,000 students.
To support families in these difficult times, many local non-profit organizations have refocused their efforts to track students’ needs and provide the necessary resources. Read Ahead, one of Proskauer’s longtime non-profit partners, is one such organization. For nearly 30 years, Read Ahead (formerly Everyone Wins! New York) has connected adult reading mentors with children in public elementary schools once per week during their lunch hours. As a member of their Junior Board, I am pleased to share a few of their updates.
Wendy Dessy, Proskauer’s Manager of Corporate Social Responsibility, sat down with Kevin Froner, principal of Manhattan Hunter Science, a high school affiliated with CUNY-Hunter College in New York City. Over the last five years Manhattan Hunter Science has emerged as one of the top public schools in America and was…