An internet portal called the Good Grid, designed to assist Arkansas's former inmates in their transition back to society, is about to make its official launch.
The story of the Good Grid began in 2011, when Nisha Garimalla was trying to improve her chances of getting into grad school for computer science at Stanford University.
“My advisor told me that I should do a social impact project. so I was supposed to go to India and use technology to help children in under-served villages learn better," she says.
But she found simply introducing computers into the classroom didn't really help. Too many of the children had problems outside of school.
“One child said she has to walk 3 miles to school and she doesn't have shoes so her feet bleed. Another said her dad beats her mom sho she can't concentrate at school."
With some research, Garimalla found that, right under her nose, there were government agencies and nonprofits whose mission was to help these same kids.
“There was actually an NGO [Non-governmental Organization] in that same state of India that provided psychological counseling to these children in villages," she says. "And there was a government program to provide bicycles to children in these under-served villages.”
Missing was an easy way for villagers to connect with these programs. So when Garimalla came back to Arkansas to work for her parents' Little Rock-based software firm, ProTech Solutions, she arrived with the idea of using technology to unify the organizations and activists who want to help the under-served here, namely ex-inmates.
So in mid-2013, Garimalla and ProTech started developing the Good Grid, a free online portal where ex-offenders can make profiles and upload resumes, non-profits and government agencies can list their services. Reentry activists can stay in touch with ex-inmates and track their progress.
They partnered with Arkansas Community Correction, the agency that keeps tabs on the state's nearly 22-thousand parolees. ACC Deputy Director Dina Tyler says one important feature allows users to learn job skills online.
“In other words they can take training right there through the Good Grid,” Tyler says.
Tyler says this will allow ex-offenders catch up a bit faster with everyone else:
“If you've been locked up for say, 10 years, and you're trying to reenter the job market, you don't have the computer skills necessary to compete with everyone else. When all that was happening in the public, you weren't in the public,” she says.
Tyler says ProTech Solutions developed the 17 million dollar system as a pilot with no initial charge to the state. Tyler and Garimalla hope ex-offenders can use the Good Grid to learn exactly what the public offers. The official launch date is January 13th.