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Pitt County Sheriff Goes Her Own Way

Sheriff Paula Dance
Leoneda Inge
/
WUNC

The face of the sheriff in North Carolina changed overnight last November. For the first time in this state, a black woman was elected sheriff.

And Paula Dance got right to work.

"I have a vested interest in this being the best community and the safest community that it can be," she told WUNC and ITVS, which is producing a documentary on Dance. "And safety doesn't always come with handcuffs."

Most of the black sheriffs who won office in North Carolina in 2018 ran on a platform of not working with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE. But Dance stood out. She said she will honor requests from ICE to detain some prisoners, but will not work with them more closely than that.

Specifically, Dance says she will not participate in the 287(g) program – a formalized collaboration with the federal government to enforce federal immigration laws.

"If they commit a crime, and they go into my detention center, I'm going to call ICE," said Dance. “But I will not be a part of the 287(g), because the 287(g) targets a specific group of people. I'm not having it here in Pitt County."

Paula Dance
Credit Leoneda Inge
/
Pitt County Sheriff Paula Dance says she will honor requests from ICE to detain some prisoners, but will not participate in the federal 287g program.

Meanwhile, most of Dance's first year was spent starting a new program called SHARP, Sheriff's Heroin Addiction Recovery Program. Inmates can voluntarily join the program which provides mental health and substance abuse counseling, life skills and prayer.

"This just being in jail and learning about the sober life, that you can live without drugs, it’s amazing," said inmate Kayshawn Hollinger.

The SHARP program has drawn praise from inmate advocates, as well.

"There are lots of people in North Carolina who are ready to see us shift away from the traditional model of law enforcement and move towards something more progressive, that's holistically better for the community," said Dawn Blagrove, executive director of the Carolina Justice Policy Center.

Dance is only the fifth black woman to be elected sheriff in the United States.

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