Imagine that your ankle has something bulky and uncomfortable wrapped around it. Worst of all, it tells the world that you’ve made bad life choices. That’s the reality for offenders who are required to wear ankle monitors. Thanks to new technology created by Junior Achievement alumnus Michael Hirschman, many monitors are being replaced by specialized smartphones.
Gaining Inspiration from JA Mentors
Long before he created a disruptive product that turned the corrections industry on its head, Hirschman was in JA working on a business plan in an Iowa school gymnasium.
“I can remember going off into a room and then working on a business approach. We were figuring out things like what our product was going to be. There was this great energy around the JA mentors. To have people who have been there, done that, making you feel that you’re capable and that you too could follow in their footsteps, was a neat feeling,” Hirschman says.
Junior Achievement sparked Hirschman’s interest in becoming an entrepreneur. While students are learning to achieve their goals by designing, developing, and deploying products, he says they’re also are developing critical thinking skills and working collaboratively.
“It allows a young person to learn the benefits of working together, effectively pooling resources, and discovering each person’s gifts, skills, and uniqueness,” he says.
He notes that it’s a two-way process.
“The kids are teaching the adults how to think differently, and the mentors are teaching problem-solving and providing wisdom,” he says.
An Opportunity to Improve Caseload Management and Help Offenders Be More Successful
Hirschman’s career has included roles in law enforcement and service as an Army military intelligence officer. He’s also worked as an engineer on classified government projects. In 2012, he started working with high-risk sex offenders, who are at greater risk of re-committing crimes. He realized there had to be a better way.
“There was information we could collect to help supervision officers manage their caseloads more effectively. For offenders, we could provide information and resources to help them be more successful,” he says.
He developed and refined a phone-based technological solution to both issues. In April 2016, he launched TRACKtech, based in Greenwood Village, Colorado. The company offers one of the first smartphone devices to be used for community corrections purposes. Biometric authentication ensures the correct individual is operating the phone. It provides necessary location tracking data and has numerous additional features designed to help offenders succeed, including cognitive behavioral therapy—a tool to improve behavior.
“It sends positive messages for achievements, like going to work on time. Gamification provides rewards for good behavior,” he says.
When COVID-19 hit, the technology made it possible for probation officers to check on their contacts remotely. Feedback has been positive from those working to monitor compliance and from offenders.
“From my perspective, one of the biggest impacts is supporting offenders through the struggles of being on probation or parole,” Hirschman says.
Like the message he received from Junior Achievement mentors when he was a school student, TRACKtech tells offenders that no matter what happened in the past, they’re capable, and they can succeed.