At the Lexington Police Department building, just 30 minutes south of Greensboro, dozens of people are running around trying to avoid going back to jail. Some are registering for state ID cards, while others are attempting to put cash in their pockets by pawning off whatever they own.
Some avoid being put back behind bars, but a majority of them aren’t so lucky and they’re hauled back to jail just after getting released. Only a few make it back to their seats in time before law enforcement officials countdown, 5-4-3-2-1.
This round of the reentry simulation run by the Guilford County Sheriff’s Office wraps and most of this simulation’s participants haven’t fared well.
The point of the activity is for the participants, who are various members of the community, to understand how some inmates feel when they’ve been released from jail or prison. The sheriff’s office’s main goal is to make it easier for former inmates to get back on their feet after being released through Guilford County’s state-funded reentry program.
“That old adage of lock them up and throw away the key is not reality,” said Sharon Harrison-Pope, coordinator of the Guilford County Sheriff's Department Reentry Program. “Ninety-five percent of everyone that's in jail or in prison are going to be returning to our communities. We need to make it easier for people to do the right thing.”
Reentry programs around the state
Every year more than 22,000 people are released from North Carolina's state prison system. The North Carolina Department of Public Safety is trying to help some of those people acclimate into society through reentry programs across the state.
Guilford County’s program was started in 2017 with financial help from DPS. It currently serves 158 people. Offenders who've been released or are about to be released can apply to be part of the program.
Once they're in, the program's case workers provide them with referrals to find housing, employment and more.
DPS’s statewide program began in 2013 and has offered reentry counsel to 19 counties thus far. They provide $150,000 in seed money per county or $225,000 to two counties partnering to host the program.
“After three to five years, they're going to be getting out and so having support in communities all across the state will make us all safer and will help folks get back on their feet and move in the positive direction we want to see them move in,” said DPS Director of Reentry Programs and Services Nicole Sullivan.
“Everyone needs support”
Dana Daughtry Jr. is a former inmate who helped participants at the reentry simulation get their state IDs. He was a habitual felon who served sentences for months at a time in county jails across the Triad.
Daughtry was last in jail five years ago and said if it wasn’t for the last jail’s reentry program, he wouldn’t know how to re-adjust to having responsibilities.
“If you don't have that [reentry program] then you're trying to do everything you can, trying to make all these appointments, you have to have all these money vouchers and you don't really even know how to do it because you lived the lifestyle out on the street for so long. That's all you know how to do,” he said. “Now when it's time to fill out paperwork and be accountable for being on time, it's hard for you to transition.”
There aren’t any statistics on how the program is impacting recidivism yet, but these reentry programs are successful according to Sullivan.
“It probably takes a community, a good couple of years to get up and running and really being able to implement a reentry model that is able to serve and support people,” Sullivan said.
A program at risk
DPS’s reentry services have caught the eye of Governor Roy Cooper. Cooper and the North Carolina General Assembly established the state Reentry Council Collaborative in 2017 which brings together. The collaborative between government, law enforcement, advocacy and faith-based entities. The collaborative then created the Reentry Action Plan to help remove barriers that can derail the success of former inmates.
As that plan unfolds in the Capitol, the state grant for the Guilford County reentry program ends this September. Program officials hope to raise enough money to make the program permanent.
That’s something Daughtry is all for.
“If you got someone saying 'great job' for every little step you take, it builds your confidence up.”