Penn students prep for national public policy challenge

One team of civic-minded Penn students will take their homegrown policy proposal to the national stage on Sunday, March 23, for the Third Annual National Invitational Public Policy Challenge, hosted by the University’s Fels Institute of Government and Governing magazine.

Modeled after MBA business plan competitions, the competition is designed to challenge student teams to develop a policy proposal and civic campaign plan to achieve significant change in their communities. The Penn team, BetterBAIL, will enter the challenge with an innovative proposal to adopt an online bail payment system for the Philadelphia County Prison System.

The BetterBAIL team consists of graduate students Laura Buckley and Cherlyn Lim of the School of Social Policy & Practice, Yosha Gunasekera of Penn Law School, and Sabrina Maynard of Fels. They earned their spot in the national competition by edging out four other teams in the Fifth Annual Penn Public Policy Challenge, earning them a $5,000 prize.

“Our BetterBAIL solution is a cost-effective and straightforward way to reduce the number of pretrial inmates in Philadelphia County,” the team says. “We propose drawing upon the existing online bail payment system that is currently in use in Erie, Chester, Westmoreland, and Delaware counties in order to create a system that works for Philadelphia.”

BetterBAIL will vie for the national challenge’s $10,000 Grand Prize against teams from the University of Washington, the University of Chicago, the University of Minnesota, the University of Texas at Austin, Georgetown University, the University of Southern California, New York University, the University of Georgia, Columbia University, and Princeton University. Half of the grand prize winnings will be divided at the team’s discretion; the remaining half will be donated to an organization of the winning team’s choice. Three other finalists will be awarded $5,000.

The event will take place from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the National Constitution Center. The program is free and open to the public, but advanced registration is required.

“BetterBAIL did a terrific job of convincing the judges that theirs was an idea both doable and worth doing,” says David Thornburgh, executive director of Fels. “It’s quintessential Penn at work, with a student team drawn from three schools bringing their best thinking to bear on a tough public problem.”

Two runners-up from the Penn Public Policy Challenge each received $1,000 to advance their proposals. iCAN was selected for a proposal to increase college access for low-income students through mentorship and targeted communications during the summer between high school graduation and the first year of college. Philadelphia MVP proposed the creation of an evidence-based cognitive behavioral therapy intervention program for at-risk youth.

Better Bail