By Jim Simpson

The Gwinnett County Sheriff’s Department partnered with the United Way of Greater Atlanta in 2012 to create the Gwinnett Reentry Intervention Program, or GRIP. With help from the county’s Board of Commissioners, Sheriff Butch Conway obtained the funds necessary to create the program. GRIP was established as a way to reduce recidivism by providing recently released convicts access to housing, drug treatment, mental health services, job training and employment.

Thanks to a $50,000 grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation awarded late last year, the department has access to a new case management software program to help with efficiency. Participation in the program increased by 50% this year because of the grant.

“GRIP is fortunate to have many community partners providing resources for inmates returning to the community,” Sheriff Conway said recently. “The Pokket program can reduce the amount of time our staff spends coordinating those resources.”

GRIP in partnership with Acivilate, the Atlanta-based developer of Pokket, applied for the Safety and Justice Innovation Fund Grant offered by the MacArthur Foundation and Urban Institute. With the award, the sheriff’s office adopted Pokket to manage the reentry process.

The sheriff’s office was one of 12 jurisdictions that joined the Safety and Justice Challenge, a national $148 million initiative to reduce over-incarceration by changing the way America thinks about and uses jails. Gwinnett County and the other jurisdictions can design and test local justice reforms designed to safely drive down jail usage and reduce racial and ethnic disparities in their local justice systems.

The Gwinnett County Sheriff’s Office was chosen for the grant following a highly competitive selection process that drew applications from across the country.

“There is growing demand for criminal justice reform, and local jurisdictions are leading the way,” said Laurie Garduque, MacArthur’s Director of Justice Reform. “MacArthur is increasing our investment in local justice reform innovations because we are seeing promising results and an appetite for more reform as evidenced by the diversity and creativity of the solutions implemented and tested across the Network.”

According to Liz Danley, GRIP’s director, roughly 35,000 people are released from jail each year from the Gwinnett County Detention Center, and about 10% of those people have no place to go.

“Probably back in 2011-2012, in Gwinnett County specifically, Sheriff Conway saw a need for individuals being released from jail. Because of homelessness, they would just be sleeping in the lobby.”

According to Danley, the county decided to invest drug forfeiture funds into GRIP, and the program received roughly $125,000 which was matched with United Way money to provide resources for homeless people.

“We have a GRIP coordinator in the jail,” Danley said, “and we have a corporal who makes up our jail team. It’s largely self-referral, and we look at those referrals and what services we can provide for them pre-release and post-release.”

Since GRIP’s inception, the recidivism rate has decreased in Gwinnett County by more than 60%, dropping from 25.5% to 8.2%. More than 3,000 former county inmates have received GRIP services since that time.

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