Each year during the holidays, we reflect with gratitude on this year’s blessings and with anticipation we look forward to the upcoming year. But in this season of hope and thanksgiving, too many are denied that promise as they wrestle with challenges that strip them of opportunity and compound despair.
If you’ve joined me here in the past, you know that I’ve highlighted organizations that help Arkansans shift back to community as they exit jails and prisons. What I have come to understand is that the tolls unrehabilitated offenders take on communities, neighborhoods, and families are too high. This month, I wanted to highlight an organization that helps people access resources to enable them to be successful in their families, communities, and careers.
The Good Grid started in 2016 as a partnership between Protech Solutions, Inc. and Arkansas Community Correction, as an effort to tackle the underlying causes of recidivism: chronic unemployment, homelessness, poverty, and poor mental health exacerbated by a lack of access to unified community services.
One of the most common laments I’ve heard with my Community Empowerment Initiative (CEI), is that while there are many good people and organizations ready to help those reentering society, those most in need are still slipping through the cracks. Everyone should have access to the services he or she needs to survive and thrive. Unfortunately, people are often unaware of all the services available to them and may feel intimidated by dense resource directories which may or may not be up-to-date.
Rep. Hill participating in the First Step Act Town Hall hosted by Americans for Prosperity with Sheriff-Elect Eric Higgins from Pulaski County, Paul Chapman with Restore Hope, and Ruby Welch with Cut50.
Similarly, service providers don’t always know what services other providers offer, aren’t always able to connect with their target demographic, or may be checking the same out-of-date directories, rendering them limited in their ability to direct clients.
The Good Grid works to address this gap by:
- Connecting beneficiaries (those looking for help) to providers that address their issues;
- Helping service providers serve more effectively by connecting them to a community of dedicated supporters;
- And channeling volunteers to causes that are meaningful to them in a mission to keep community service providers strong and healthy enough to support their clients.
The Good Grid was designed as a one-stop shop for delivering services to returning citizens, with the belief that every person has a part to play in the lives of those in need, and in an effort to systematically address and reduce recidivism in the State of Arkansas. Its mission is to invest in social change by connecting volunteers and service providers with those in need.
In the last year, the Good Grid has expanded its scope to include other vulnerable populations and work closely with organizations such as the Arkansas Homeless Coalition (AHC) and the Central Arkansas Team Care for the Homeless (CATCH) to focus on people experiencing homelessness; Goodwill Industries of Arkansas to reach both their clients who have criminal records and those who do not, but who are in need of employment; and the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation’s Boys and Men of Color Opportunity Success Team (BMOST).
It is so important that when we are going about the business of life, whether that be teaching, legislating, parenting, volunteering, healing, or governing, we remember who is impacted and who is left behind.
By working with these individuals and organizations and interacting with the people they are helping, I have come to better understand that the costs to society of not acting on this issue are not limited to what taxpayers get: higher recidivism rates, higher prison budgets, more beds to build, more dangerous streets, and fewer badly needed workers in the labor force.
That is why I was pleased to support the Formerly Incarcerated Reenter Society Transformed Safely Transitioning Every Person (First Step) Act. We passed it in the House by an overwhelmingly bipartisan vote of 358-36, it passed in the Senate by a vote of 87-12, and was signed into law by the President on December 21, 2018.
This crucial piece of legislation builds off successes in states like Georgia, Texas, and Alabama, and applies them to the federal prison system, working to reduce recidivism and promote rehabilitation by encouraging inmates to participate in educational and vocational training, and by improving conditions in federal prisons.
There’s been quite a lot of criticism heaped on this bill from those saying that the bill goes too far, and also those saying it doesn’t go far enough. Too often I’ve seen good people who, when faced with the harsh reality of a difficult problem, turn to cynicism.
People who, in the face of compromise, when perfect ideals can’t be attained, shrug and ask, “so why do anything?” To those saying the bill goes too far, I ask, if people are going to be released eventually, why not ensure they can become productive members of society and are not forced to return to a life of crime? And to those saying the bill does not go far enough, this was never meant to be a comprehensive fix. This piece of legislation is truly a first step.
Our Nation’s federal system of incarceration makes up less than 15 percent of the U.S. prison population, and just over 3 percent of the nearly 7 million people overseen by the U.S. justice system.
The First Step Act, while innovative and important, would only affect the offenders under federal control. However, I believe that the much-needed reforms implemented in this legislation can serve as a model to incentivize action while illuminating and guiding states on a path forward.
Representative French Hill