Gathering around the tree to open gifts is the typical Christmas scene for most families.
But for Yusef Jackson, the holiday was a time to help the incarcerated held at the Cook (Ill.) County Department of Corrections.
“Most kids think about what they’re going to get under the tree,” Jackson said recently. “For us, the big thing on Christmas was to wake up, put our clothes on and go to the jail and put on programs for the prisoners.
“It was our religious obligation to do so.”
Jackson, whose father is noted civil rights leader Jesse Jackson, has devoted his life to driving structural change in confronting systemic racism.
The attorney and entrepreneur brings that experience to Aventiv Technologies, a diversified technology company that provides solutions to customers in the corrections and government services sectors. Platinum purchased Securus Technologies in 2017; a 2019 corporate reorganization and diversification of products led to the formation of Aventiv, the parent corporation over Securus and JPay.
The reorganization represented the transformation from a corrections telecom company to becoming a diversified tech provider.
Jackson joins Aventiv as a senior executive; he is also an advisor to the ownership group. He has been tasked with overseeing Aventiv’s corrections subsidiary, Securus Technologies, in the ongoing effort to expand and implement more affordable and accessible products with the goal to create better outcomes for the incarcerated.
“We are proud of the reform work Aventiv and Securus have already executed, but we know there is much more to do to drive meaningful change in the company and industry. We are confident that Yusef can affect change through innovation,” Platinum Equity CEO Tom Gores said.
Shortly after Jackson’s appointment, Securus announced the formation of a post-incarceration business unit focused on identifying more opportunities to support individuals after release and provide critical resources to foster successful reentry into society.
The transformation efforts are ongoing with Jackson meeting stakeholders and activists since the announcement.
Some might be surprised at Jackson’s choice to join the company that has been accused by activists of predatory schemes against the incarcerated. But the father of five believes in the transformation mission.
“At our best we can educate people through our platform,” Jackson said. “We can provide GED services, we can provide mental health services, we can provide access to degrees. We can use our platform to register you to vote. We can provide entertainment, podcasts, and educational materials. That’s what we do at our best. We have a past, but the past has created opportunities for the future.”
Jackson spoke with Platinum Equity to give an update on his first few months.
(Answers have been edited for clarity and length).
PE: Why did you decide to join Aventiv?
Jackson: When I was first presented with this opportunity, I had to pray on it. I read the reports about the company and was disturbed by some of the practices. But I had a conversation with (Platinum Equity partner) Mark Barnhill and Tom Gores. And I believe that honestly and truly, we’re looking for a path to pursue justice in the criminal justice system through the company. We’ve worked together for many months to determine how we might achieve that goal. One of the things we have discussed is getting people who use our products to express their opinions and their stories about how our products are used. It will help us do a better job of connecting them with their loved ones on the outside.
Jackson: I told Tom that we’re at our best when we connect mothers and fathers to their children, sons and daughters to their parents, and grandparents to their grandchildren. When we’re at our best, we give comfort to children that your mother or father is OK. We connect people during their most vulnerable period.
PE: Is there anything in your work experience that informs your work with Aventiv?
Jackson: I ran a company for 15 years in distribution and warehousing logistics and operations. I practice law, and I’ve run our family foundation for several years. What you learn is it’s about people, decision-making and problem solving, but now I really focus on people. If you can instill that spirit of empathy and loyalty and instill a culture of excellence, it opens so many possibilities. Along with Mark, there are some great people at Aventiv and we’re working to continue to transform a culture.
PE: How can Aventiv address issues of systemic racism, inequality?
Jackson: It’s no secret that our communities have been over policed, some target communities of color with predatory practices. Redlining is real. That cycle of predation can’t follow us from the neighborhoods to the prison cell. With products like JPay, with our tablet platform products, we can turn a jail cell into a place of learning, which will allow us to significantly reduce recidivism so that we don’t end up going back into the same system that we left.
Jackson: We will establish degree programs that will reduce recidivism. When you have a degree, when you have education, you don’t go back in that system. That’s what our platform has the power to do. We’re investing in education programs, we’re investing in voter registration programs, we’re investing in mental health programs and also second-chance opportunities, so that when you come out, you have a chance to participate in the community. Pricing must be fair. You should not go into debt paying for phone calls to reach your loved ones.
PE: Your passion is noticeable. Where does that come from?
Jackson: Growing up, our phone number was always published, and prisoners always called us. We always accepted the collect calls. So we protested exorbitant phone rates. We’ve been on picket lines to make prisons safer, more sanitary. So the opportunity to move from protests on the outside, to changing the position of a company on the inside is something that appeals to me. I think there is a tremendous opportunity for Platinum to run a great business and do justice. We have an opportunity to invest in the people who are affected by the system. That’s one of the reasons I think Tom is a perfect owner for this, for this company, is that he has the resources and the time to invest in the system to make it better.
PE: You mentioned Gores and Barnhill. Did they have to sell you on joining Aventiv?
Jackson: We worked for five months before I started, and we’ve spent a lot of time together. We talked about what our goals were, how we align our goals, how we shape objectives for the initiative. Once we got together and determined that we were going to make this company right, it didn’t take a much more than that. The only way to affect change is to get on the field. I’m not afraid to be on the field, with this team fighting to make the changes that we’re speaking about. It’s worth it.