Reentry effort giving inmates second chance

According to the state Department of Public Safety, almost half of North Carolina’s prison population leaves incarceration, only to return a short time later.

The sobering statistic is that North Carolina’s 3-year recidivism rate is 40 percent.

The prison cycle is much like the weather — people like to discuss it, but nobody does anything about it.

There is a group in Scotland County trying their best to do something about recidivism.

The Southeastern Re-entry Council, which includes Scotland Robeson and Hoke counties, is working to ease the way for released inmates back into society —which adds up to about 95 percent of those incarcerated.

The group helped sponsor a free clinic in Laurinburg last week to help those with criminal records clear them up.

Many of the attendees said that the blemish on their records is often an impediment to getting a good job. With the county’s high unemployment rate, we don’t need another stumbling block to putting people to work.

In addition, there are more than 900 state and federal laws that deny North Carolinians a wide range of privileges and rights based on a criminal record.

The clinics are just a small part of the ongoing work by 14 local re-entry councils across the state, according to Chris Mitchell, who serves as chairman of the regional and county re-entry councils.

With more than 20,000 people released from North Carolina prisons each year, the council tries to help former inmates find jobs, get transportation and obtain health care and housing.

The key to the councils being successful is support. Our local reentry council has paired with local churches, businesses, civic and elected leaders and employment officials to help with the transition.

But the effort also needs the backing — and financial support — of state and federal officials.

So far government leaders seem to be on board. Last year, five new re-entry councils were funded through a $1.75 million federal grant that the Department of Public Safety received in October 2015 from the Bureau of Justice Assistance to enhance transitional services, expand reentry councils and continue reforms begun under the Justice Reinvestment Act in 2011.

Still it is tough sell for some who want to take a hard line on crime. But it shouldn’t be. It costs the NC Department of Public Safety about $27,000 annually to incarcerate a single person.

It certainly is a better bargain when people out of prison are productive members of society helping their families and communities, reducing crime and no longer serving as a drain on needed resources.