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Editorial: Prison, locals should follow up on conversations

Police Chief Jerry Stokes is right in his concerns about prisoners from elsewhere being released into Salisbury.

Inmates at state-run Piedmont Correctional in Salisbury whose time in jail ends may be released into the Salisbury area with no resources to get back on their feet.

As Stokes said, “They essentially come here and are let out of the front door.”

He said 18 inmates were released last month alone, none were from here and four were homeless.

Consider the homeless inmates or those without a family member to pick them up right away. Where do they spend their first night? What about the second? And what exactly is their path to a stable living after serving time in prison?

“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 told reporter Shavonne Walker in a story published Sunday (“Police chief concerned about prisoners released locally”).

Representatives of the N.C. Department of Public Safety say there are local groups who are interested in Rowan County become a site for a re-entry council, but that council cannot be the community’s responsibility alone.

Neither the city of Salisbury nor its residents released inmates from elsewhere from Piedmont Correctional. Neither did Rowan County government or its residents, but both bodies would surely incur some additional expense, whether time or money, without the state’s help. That’s why the state should make Piedmont Correctional a formal re-entry site and follow through with some state funding to facilitate the program. A released inmate, for example, may need transitional housing as he or she participates in training to get a job through the N.C. Manufacturing Institute at Rowan-Cabarrus Community College.

And, to be clear, it would be a good investment for the state, which could see benefits through, among other things, reduced recidivism and fewer North Carolinians left with nowhere to go after serving time for their crime.

Nicole Sullivan, director of re-entry programs for the Department of Public Safety, said there are already some programs at Piedmont Correctional, and also correctly noted that the prison “can do a better job when we can build that rapport and have that relationship.” Rowan is next on the list for a re-entry program because of interest from the community in helping facilitate the program, she said.

That’s good news, and we hope Salisbury Police, other law enforcement agencies and nonprofits follow up on conversations that have occurred to ensure Salisbury and Rowan County aren’t left “holding the bag.”

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