Monthly Archives: May 2016

Arkansas Prisons


What can we do about it?

Crime rates are falling all across America. Even in Arkansas violent crime has dropped by 4% and property crime was down 17% between 2004 and 2014. However, since 2014 Arkansas prison population has increased by 22%, to more than 18,000 inmates and Arkansans on probation or parole, the highest rate of rise in the nation. Around the country states are closing prisons due to the drop in crime while in Arkansas we continues to pack our prisons and county jails at a cost of 512 Million dollars last year, expected to rise to more than $1.2billion within 10-years.

We are a small state with a population of around 3-million and a tight budget that we have continued to balance at a staggering cost. Imagine if we could use our state budget to treat mental illness and substance abuse rather than incarcerate ill and addicted inmates.

Rather than remaining the brunt of the stigma and shame that comes from perusing policies that have obviously failed us, we could be an example of another state that has turned our problem around.

In 2011, lawmakers recognized a problem with simply building more jails and took action, passing Act-570. The law was designed to reduce prison populations by reducing sentences, expanding probation and parole and encouraging reentry programs. So, what happened?

In 2013, a parolee was arrested for murder just days after his release. The Board of Corrections implemented new, stricter guidelines to keep inmates incarcerated longer and Act 570 collapsed.

By reinvigorating Act-570 and making it retroactive we could alleviate prison overcrowding with the stroke of a pen. By expanding alternative sentencing and instituting pre-judicial restorative justice programs we could help heal communities and begin treating many non-violent crimes as the community mental health issues that they are and not as criminal justice problems.

By interdicting petty criminals, addicts and the mentally ill we can begin to offer help, not punishment. We can see our family and neighbors restored through compassion and treatment rather than burdening them with a criminal record that will haunt them for life.

We can end the new “Jim Crow” of felony conviction status. We can smash the prison industrial complex. We can make mass incarceration a thing of the past, a bad memory, a shameful part of our history that we proudly overcome. Arkansas needs prisons. We need safe, well-funded and well-administered prisons. However we don’t need to fill these exceptional prisons with non-violent substance abusers and our mentally ill friends and family. Our prisons should be reserved for our friends and family who pose a danger to all of us, not for those we are mad at.

I see Arkansas as a unique state that traditionally was a beacon of freedom on the frontier. Wedged between the Deep South and Indian Territory, Arkansas was a state where all people were welcome to start anew, unfettered by past mistakes, and build a healthy life. Somewhere around the beginning of the last century things began to change and Arkansas fell into a sad maturity. We began to accept prejudice and fear as a natural state of things. That is not our true heritage.

Let us return to being on the frontier of change, acceptance and envision a new life for all Arkansans.

Robert Kim Combs
Publisher & General Manager
Help YourSelf Community Resources Directory

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The Good Grid

In the interest of sharing both the Resource Directory and the Feature Articles now wending their way throughout Pulaski County (Arkansas) via the distribution of Help YourSelf v.2.n.1. we are pleased to post:

  • The current PDF ‘service provider’ edition of the Resource Directory which includes all of the Web Directory URLs that do not appear in the print publication and has NO advertising or editorial content. To download, just click here.
  • The first of the full-length feature articles published in v.2.n.1., and the promise to post more entertaining and informative content from this edition in coming weeks:

goog_grid_logoTHE GOOD GRID

“My advisor told me that I should do a social impact project,” Nisha Garimalla told the story of how The Good Grid began.

In 2011, Nisha was focused on getting into grad school at Stanford University. To bolster her com-puter science qualifications, she took on a project in India to help children in under-served villages gain access to educational resources. What she found was a challenge more daunting than simply introducing technology to the classrooms.

Nisha Garimalla, founder of The Good Grid

Nisha Garimalla, founder of The Good Grid

“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 so she can’t concentrate at school.”

Determined to vanquish these stumbling-blocks, Nisha plied her research skill to finding solutions and discovered that there were a plethora of government agencies and nonprofit good-works organizations whose mission it 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 said. “And there was a government program to provide bicycles to children in these under-served villages.”

Thus Nisha started with the mission of creating a networking portal to connect those in need with those that provide services.

Coming home to Arkansas, Nisha went to work for Protech Solutions, inspired with the idea of using technology to unify the organizations and activists who want to help the under-served, namely former offenders.

“There are so many,” she said, about both the number of men and women who are released daily from incarceration, and the long list of organizations with missions to assist in and support the reentry process.

Good Grid 1 (1)“There’s the CARE Coalition and Freedom for Life, all these different coalitions and service providers, government agencies. Everyone wants to help,” she said.

Thus in mid-2013, Nisha and Protech started developing The Good Grid as a free and readily accessible networking website, bringing together those who are re-entering the com-munity with services, support and guidance.

“Job-seekers can make profiles and upload resumes, non-profits and government agencies can list their services” she explained.

“Today in Arkansas many people find themselves in helpless situations and having to deal with a multitude of poverty related issues,” Nisha elaborated. “Although there are many good people and great organizations ready to help, people are still slipping through the cracks.”

The Good Grid streamlines access to a multitude of training and support programs via two main components. One part, called MyPortfolio, is a tool for people who are seeking assistance and their case-workers to prepare resumes and browse training modules for structured learning programs which address individual needs to improve reading, math, technology and work skills, search the Good Grid database of more than 100,000 services, and apply for jobs gleaned from various sources including local news-papers and larger job databases.

One exceptional benefit of the Good Grid is that job searches can be filtered to find those specifically posted for people who have been recently released from prison.

The other part, called Social Hub, is for networking among volun-teers and service pro-viders to raise awareness about assis-tance, support, and volunteer opportunities, outreach and fundraising events throughout the local community.

“The Good Grid is a free service,” Nisha concluded. “Please contact us for help getting started.”

For more information, contact Nisha at or visit

Volume 2, Number 1

With a hale and hearty ‘hip-hip-hooray’, Help YourSelf: Community Resources Directory for Little Rock & Pulaski County, went to print (thanks to the awesome professional wherewithal of ALL the fine folks at Leader Publishing) on April 11, 2016…!!!

Nearly half of the 20,000 V.2.N.1. full-color 24-page newspapers are now in distribution (see Find Us for locations), thanks to the diligence and shoe leather of Help YourSelf Publisher & General Manager, Robert Kim Combs, who has been hot-footing it all around the community delivering bundles for the last month whilst I — being the lazy editor I am <smile> — vacationed with my kids in Japan.

Long story short, the PDF edition of V.2.N.1. is readily available for your online download, perusal and sharing. And if you would like to join our ever growing list of distributors, contact Kim,

(((hugs))) ~Christine

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