Op-Ed Originally Published in WashU StudLife in April 2016

This February, a group of Washington University students issued a statement calling for the removal of Wash. U. board member Andrew Taylor, who owns a controlling interest in the Keefe Group, a company that provides a variety of services to the U.S. prison system. Their argument: That the university should not be profiting from America’s overcrowded, overpriced prison industrial complex.

As someone who works closely with many Wash. U. students, faculty and alumni through my St. Louis-based venture investment fund, iSelect, and as someone who has been involved in the local entrepreneurial community for many years, I feel the need to comment on this and present what I consider to be an alternate take on the issue.

The Taylor family is, first and foremost, a family of entrepreneurs. They are very successful today, but that success came at the price of many years of hard work over many decades.

That said, the opposition to Taylor’s place on the Wash. U. board and the money that his name represents, is misplaced.

The truth is, our court system is overloaded. That’s a fact. Prosecutors overcharge individuals in an effort to scare them into pleading guilty and thereby avoid a hearing whenever possible. People with good lawyers can fight back. People with bad lawyers (or no legal representation at all) often plead guilty even when they are innocent.

As a result, poor kids disproportionately end up in prison. This is a national travesty and I wholeheartedly agree that something needs to be done about it.

So why not start now?

I don’t know much about prison services, but I do know about innovation. And I know that it has the power to change the world for the better.

What if, rather than with plastic bags and slips of paper, police evidence was gathered with a blockchain app that was impossible to corrupt? Then all of the data associated with a given case could be meta-tagged, analyzed, and distilled down into one master report on each crime. That would guarantee that everyone knows the facts—the defendant, prosecutor, defense attorney, etc would all get the report. It would be Big Data for the justice system.

And why stop there? Let’s archive all the past cases in the system and open up the archive to researchers who can mine the data to help lawyers become more effective. Or maybe we can use that data to better focus outreach and crime prevention efforts to the communities that need them. That would not only cut down on prison populations—both innocent and guilty—but also help prevent crimes in the first place.

What’s the answer? I have no idea, but I do know that a solution is possible. Every successful company that you can name—from GE, to Apple, to Google, and beyond—started out as little more than an idea, a glimmer of inspiration in their founders’ heads. It probably seemed impossible at first, but in my experience success often comes only after sitting down, figuring out the possibilities, and then taking action.

And I know one other thing: Wash. U. is home to some of the most intelligent, motivated and talented students in the U.S. That’s the reason that we so often work with entrepreneurs with Wash. U. ties—they’re truly the best of the best and we hold the entire community there in the highest regard. If anyone can solve America’s prison problem, you can. That’s what I’d like to see come out of all this.