Not in my backyard: R.I. tech firm sees probation center moved

Plan to place a probation and parole center in an accessible area successfully thwarted by techie NIMBYism

Topics: rhode island, probation, parole, Silicon Valley, swipely, Google, Prison, Lincoln Chafee, start up, , ,

Not in my backyard: R.I. tech firm sees probation center moved Providence, RI (Credit: Shutterstock)

“Not in my back yard,” said a tech firm to Rhode Island’s governor when plans were made to move a parole and corrections center to downtown Providence — an area accessible to parolees, but also the home of growing startup businesses. Democratic governor Lincoln Chafee acquiesced and the corrections offices will be housed elsewhere, so as not to offend the tastes of tech and start-up workers in downtown Providence.

In a letter obtained by Salon to the governor’s office, Angus Davis, the Founder and CEO and founder of Rhode Island’s fasted growing tech firm, Swipely, urged that the probation offices be moved. “How can you expect businesses like ours to stay in downtown Providence and create high paying jobs in your state when your administration wants to turn our backyard into a meeting place for violent offenders — prisoners on parole and probation?”

Davis’ words are not only drenched in classist, reductive assumptions about individuals who go through the prison system, they also highlight the Sisyphean task of escaping the stigma of a criminal record. Parole — albeit regularly restrictive and draconian in its terms — is intended as a step in between incarceration and freedom; attitudes like Davis’, treating paroles as pariahs, make probation all the more difficult. Davis described the proposed parole and probations offices as a “government-mandated criminal convention center.”

Bending to the wishes of the business community, Gov. Chafee’s officer announced this week that the corrections offices would not be moved to that area. The decision is thus a tacit endorsement of the worst sort of NIMBYism, responding positively attitude that deems every prisoner a “criminal” for life.

“Perception is something people care about,” Chafee said. Chafee didn’t need to qualify which “people” and whose “perceptions” mattered here: evidently, fast-growing tech startups count as “people” with “perceptions” above and beyond the parolees needing a convenient, accessible meeting point with their parole officers to complete probation.

The recent Rhode Island decision is not the first example of an unpleasant strain within tech startups in showing scant regard for marginalized and impoverished communities. Noreen Malone highlighted in the New Republic a number of comments made my Silicon Valley CEOs on social media sites, expressing a desire to be geographically isolated from San Francisco’s homeless population.

Greg Copman, the CEO of a firm that runs hackathons wrote on Facebook, in a now-deleted post, “In downtown S.F. the degenerates gather like hyenas, spit, urinate, taunt you, sell drugs, get rowdy, they act like they own the center of the city. Like it’s their place of leisure… In actuality it’s the business district for one of the wealthiest cities in the USA. It a disgrace.” A friend of his commented, “why is this the showcase of the center of San Francisco. We’re supposed to be a gleaming utopia of what a city could be. Why should we have homeless shelters, method one [sic] shelters, strip clubs all in the center of town.”

Of course, not every Silicon Valley or tech startup employee share Copman or Davis’ classist bent. However, Davis’ opinion garnered enough support to shift the plans of the state governor. Those who once saw the tech boom as an aperture for democratizing societies through technologies and online networks must now realize the cybernetic dream is dead. We know, of course, that tech giants have for some years been working with government agencies to construct and maintain a near totalized surveillance state, earning vast fortunes from commodified and surveilled Internet denizens. And we see, too, in the Google buses, that ferry Google workers and Bay Area gentrifiers to and from their home locales to their gleaming, Googly workplaces, and in Swipely’s desire to rid Downtown providence of the poor and once-imprisoned, a conservatism in the tech world that would uphold a Tale of Two Cities. Perception is something people care about, after all.

Natasha Lennard

Natasha Lennard is an assistant news editor at Salon, covering non-electoral politics, general news and rabble-rousing. Follow her on Twitter @natashalennard, email

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    Burger King Japan

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Burger King's black cheeseburger: Made with squid ink and bamboo charcoal, arguably a symbol of meat's destructive effect on the planet. Only available in Japan.

    Elite Daily/Twitter

    2014's fast food atrocities

    McDonald's Black Burger: Because the laws of competition say that once Burger King introduces a black cheeseburger, it's only a matter of time before McDonald's follows suit. You still don't have to eat it.


    2014's fast food atrocities

    Domino's Specialty Chicken: It's like regular pizza, except instead of a crust, there's fried chicken. The company's marketing officer calls it "one of the most creative, innovative menu items we have ever had” -- brain power put to good use.


    2014's fast food atrocities

    Arby's Meat Mountain: The viral off-menu product containing eight different types of meat that, on second read, was probably engineered by Arby's all along. Horrific, regardless.


    2014's fast food atrocities

    KFC'S ZINGER DOUBLE DOWN KING: A sandwich made by adding a burger patty to the infamous chicken-instead-of-buns creation can only be described using all caps. NO BUN ALL MEAT. Only available in South Korea.

    Taco Bell

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Taco Bell's Waffle Taco: It took two years for Taco Bell to develop this waffle folded in the shape of a taco, the stand-out star of its new breakfast menu.

    Michele Parente/Twitter

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Krispy Kreme Triple Cheeseburger: Only attendees at the San Diego County Fair were given the opportunity to taste the official version of this donut-hamburger-heart attack combo. The rest of America has reasonable odds of not dropping dead tomorrow.

    Taco Bell

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Taco Bell's Quesarito: A burrito wrapped in a quesadilla inside an enigma. Quarantined to one store in Oklahoma City.

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Boston Pizza's Pizza Cake: The people's choice winner of a Canadian pizza chain's contest whose real aim, we'd imagine, is to prove that there's no such thing as "too far." Currently in development.


    2014's fast food atrocities

    7-Eleven's Doritos Loaded: "For something decadent and artificial by design," wrote one impassioned reviewer, "it only tasted of the latter."

  • Recent Slide Shows


Loading Comments...