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Police chief: Re-entry programs needed for prisoners released locally

By Shavonne Walker
shavonne.walker@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — Police Chief Jerry Stokes is expressing concerns that the local prison is releasing inmates into the community with no resources to support their re-entry into society.

Prison officials admit there is no formal re-entry program at Piedmont Correctional Institute, but say one could be on the horizon.

During a Salisbury City Council meeting earlier this month, Stokes presented information that had been provided to the police department that showed in the last month alone, 18 inmates were released from the prison, none of whom were Rowan County natives. In fact, four were homeless and none were originally sentenced in Rowan County.

According to Nicole Sullivan, director of reentry programs and services with the N.C. Department of Public Safety’s Division of Adult Corrections, there were 864 men released from Piedmont Correctional Institute in fiscal year 2019, which ended in July.

“Bottom line for me as the police chief, we seem to be left holding the bag with the potential to have our community impacted by people being released from prison without resource assistance from the state to get back on their feet and avoid committing a crime just to return to prison,” Stokes said.

He is worried that the release of prisoners could cause a spike in crime and cause further stress on the county criminal justice system.

“I am concerned that Community Corrections (Probation & Parole) will have a greater workload and be maxed out on being able to effectively monitor parolees,” Stokes said.

He said because some people who are being released from the Salisbury-based correctional facility are nearing the end of their release by days, “they essentially come here and are let out the front door.”

In addition to the potential increase in crime, Stokes said, he’s also concerned about homelessness and an increase in substance abuse issues.

“Released prisoners not from here have the greater disadvantage of not having any family or other support to help them in any way once they walk out the door of the prison into Rowan,” Stokes said.

Stokes to the Post Rowan County become the “poster child” for providing good reentry services, but that would take money.

“I don’t believe there has been additional funding directed toward us from the state to support reentry programs,” Stokes said.

Although there is no formal exit program in place, Sullivan said there are local stakeholders who include the faith community, treatment facilities, advocates and others who are interested in Rowan County becoming a site for a reentry council.

During a meeting earlier this year, prison officials, local and state advocates/representatives met to discuss one option — the Gateway Freedom Center on North Main Street becoming the site for the council.

The council would be the starting place for newly released inmates to receive resources about housing, jobs, education and other services that would be available to them in Rowan County, should they choose to stay in the community, Sullivan explained.

The people are interested, but the hold up has been funding, she said.

She said there are already programs at Piedmont that would assist prisoners who are nearing release, including a GED program, life skills, parenting classes or a trade.

“We give them resources, but we feel we can do a better job when we can build that rapport and have that relationship,” Sullivan said.

She added that local stakeholders are ready to move to the next level, but there have been no specific next steps made.

“We at the state level are having conversations to identify where we are going next to identify sites. Rowan would be next on the list because they certainly have been talking about it. The partnerships are there. The stakeholders are solid and that’s what we look for,” she said.

The state is working on more comprehensive planning and would connect those programs to reentry councils.

According to John Bull, a communications officer with the N.C. Department of Public Safety, there are formal reentry programs in prison facilities in Orange, Gaston, New Hanover and Lincoln counties.

He said there are elements of a reentry program at Piedmont, which include educational components, but it is not a formal reentry facility.

Contact reporter Shavonne Walker at 704-797-4253.

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