State Plans To Begin Paying For Website Helping Ex-Inmates

May 18, 2017

A screenshot of the Good Grid web portal.
Credit http://www.goodgrid.com/

Arkansas Community Correction officials plan to continue operating an online portal that assists ex-convicts in their transition back to society. On Wednesday the state Board of Corrections approved a $50,000 contract for maintenance and upgrades to the Good Grid, a social media-like website. It allows former inmates to upload and build resumes and set up profiles accessible to prospective employers.

Non-profits and charities assisting the formerly incarcerated also set up accounts on the site to list their resources. Kevin Murphy, the chief deputy director of the Department of Community Correction, says the service has been a way to connect various entities trying to solve issues relating to life after incarceration.

“This is a community issue. It’s a community problem,” says Murphy. “The state can’t be the solution. We’ve got to get communities involved. And there’s other efforts going on, kind of on the parameters of the Good Grid, where we’re trying to pull the communities together and then the Good Grid [can] be one of the components of that community coalition.”

Little Rock-based software company Protech Solutions, Inc. developed the Good Grid. The company invested $19 million in the program, according to the ACC. For the last year and a half, Protech has operated the site free of charge to the department.

Patty Sims, the reentry manager at Arkansas Department of Community Correction, says many community partners have been receptive to the program, which launched in January of last year.                                   

“Whenever Protech was developing Good Grid, they built it off of a social network paradigm, which many people are familiar with, such as Facebook. So usability-wise, there’s not a lot of usability issues that we run into and a lot of people really like the ability to post a job opportunity or an event to a social network that’s also social impact-minded,” Sims says.

Sims says about 1,300 community partners have active accounts. She says at least 100 former inmates have obtained employment through the Good Grid. That number, however, does not count others who may have used the program without guidance from the department.

Murphy says there are likely “hundreds and hundreds” who have found employment through the site.

“The Good Grid is designed where the inmate or the parolee can go in and look at the job openings and either take that and go and manually apply or apply through the Good Grid and then get set up for the interview and we’d never know about it, which is fine as long as they were able to get employment,” he says.

Arkansas Community Correction supervises the state’s population of parolees and probationers. At the end of the 2016 Fiscal Year, about 54,000 people were on parole and probation in the state. The department also oversees incarcerated people who are approaching their release date.

Murphy says inmates who face release within 24 months are directed to upload resumes and set up accounts on the Good Grid.

Murphy says it has been “a struggle” to keep some community partners active on the site because some of them are “small mom and pop operations and they come and go.” He says there are roughly 15,000 inactive accounts belonging to people in the community who signed up as service providers for the ex-offenders.

Nevertheless, ACC Deputy Director and spokeswoman Dina Tyler says the website has transformed reentry services.

“Other states have little systems, little portals, but no state has anything close to this,” Tyler says. “Probably at some point, I’m willing to bet that other states will have this system. It’s that big. It’s that inclusive and comprehensive that it will make reentry easier. It will.”

Murphy says the state Office of Procurement and the Department of Finance and Administration still have to approve the $50,000 contract for operating the Good Grid.