County looking into creating reentry council aimed at assisting formerly-incarcerated

Published 12:10 am Friday, May 24, 2024

SALISBURY — The Rowan County Board of Commissioners took the first step in potentially adding a local reentry council, aimed at assisting recently-incarcerated individuals, by approving a grant application during its meeting on Monday.

The grant that the county applied for is from the North Carolina Department of Adult Correction, who is offering up to $450,000 over a three-year period if the council covers one county or $675,000 over the same period if the council covers two or more counties. If the award is granted, the county would serve as the “Intermediary Agency,” which means that the county would be the fiscal agent for the council, hiring the staff, managing the budget and expenditures and managing contracts with local service providers. The county would also be required to serve in a liaison role with the NCDAC and coordinate the council’s activities.

There are currently 17 reentry councils in the state, serving 19 counties. The closest counties to Rowan County with councils are Forsyth and Mecklenburg. They serve as organized networks that connect and coordinate multiple community partners and offer their resources to assist formerly-incarcerated individuals. Common members of the council include local justice system officials, community colleges, vocational rehabilitation services and mental health professionals.

Chairman Greg Edds said that a reentry council had been on his wish list for a while, but he was worried that Rowan County may not be ready for what the council would require.

“There are a lot of folks in our jails that want to come out and they want to do well, but they don’t know how. We as a community expect them to walk the straight and narrow, but oftentimes, they don’t have that opportunity,” said Edds.

Edds noted that he knew of businesses that were active in hiring former inmates and some organizations aimed at the same population, but he was not certain how to connect all of the different groups, which is where the council and the state’s assistance in beginning would help.

The council would require at least two paid staff in a local reentry coordinator and a local job placement specialist, said Ann Kitalong-Will, the county’s grants administrator. Those two positions would be hired as county employees and paid directly by the county.

The commissioners asked Kitalong-Will and county attorney Jay Dees if it would be possible for them to apply for the grant, assess their readiness while the application was pending and then not accept the award if they received it. Because the turnaround for the grant application, which had a Friday deadline, was so short, county officials did not have much time to analyze the situation and create a plan.

“Mr. Chairman, if we were to apply, and you say we’re not ready and I agree we’re not, we could look at other counties and copycat their system to be able to implement it the next year. But, I don’t want to miss the opportunity for the funding, but at the same time I don’t want to take the money and not produce anything either,” said Commissioner Craig Pierce.

Both Kitalong-Will and Dees assured the commissioners that if they refused the grant they would still be eligible in the future.

At the end of the discussion, the commissioners voted unanimously to approve county staff preparing a proposal and to direct County Manager Aaron Church to sign off on the grant application and submit it.

“We’ll just seek to do the right thing,” said Edds after the commissioners voted.