What do a computer-science graduate project, a correctional agency and a national software developer have in common? They all share a vision to create a stronger reentry system in Arkansas through The Good Grid, an online reentry portal for offenders, service providers and community organizations. This project/partnership started more than two years ago, and Arkansas is already beginning to see the results of a reentry portal that brings together all the partners necessary for the creation of a strong reentry system, including the offenders returning to the community.
Protech Solutions Inc., the company behind The Good Grid, has built numerous state-level child support systems in the U.S., including the Arkansas Community Correction's (ACC) system. When examining the group with the highest rate of unpaid monthly support obligations, Nagaraj Garimalla, chief software architect at Protech, noticed the overlap with those incarcerated or recently released from prison. At the same time, ACC Chief Deputy Director Kevin Murphy had an idea for an electronic resource directory that would be available to all ACC supervision staff statewide. Additionally, Garimalla had just completed a graduate school project in India that brought together service providers and beneficiaries to improve educational outcomes of children in local towns. From these, the idea of The Good Grid was born and continues to grow.
For the majority of individuals who are released back to the community, there are many obstacles that make it difficult for them to become self-sufficient. For example, they have to rely on family and friends to help create a stable environment for them. At times, however, these family and friends are either jaded from previous experiences or have enabled past problematic behaviors, thus making the return environment less stable. Through pilot projects with local parole offices, the following narrative--a compilation of multiple stories capturing the difficulty many individuals face upon returning home--was born.
"I was a fast-food cook and an assembly liner and now, I am a cashier, but I am trying to pay child support [for] two children and I barely have enough for food and rent," said one offender. "I've been late on rent two months in a row and I'm afraid I'll get kicked out. I need more money and a better job, but I don't have a car and this is the closest job to me. On top of everything else, I just got diagnosed with diabetes, which is going to be another huge expense. I'm a hard worker and I just need a new start in life for myself and my children."
After speaking with numerous offenders, it quickly became clear that a focus on one aspect of support alone, like employment, could prove successful only if related problems were simultaneously addressed. For instance, many don't have access to transportation to job interviews; many have substance-abuse...