Officials: Reducing crime requires resourcefulness
By Tyler Stocks
The Daily Reflector
Monday, April 15, 2019
Connecting former criminals with affordable housing and job opportunities is one way to keep them from winding up back in jail, officials said during a police relations committee meeting last week.
Greenville Police officer Lt. K.Z. Thomas said during Tuesday’s meeting that she sees a lot of people get out of jail only to get caught up in a criminal lifestyle once more.
“We see offenders that get out and we’re hoping they will change their ways and not re-offend,” Thomas said. “And it’s often they seem to re-offend and we’re back in that circle. We need to figure out how to stop them from doing that, or how to help them and give them more options.”
One option presented was getting convicted criminals to enter job readiness programs that will allow them to re-enter society successfully.
STRIVE which is operated by LIFE of NC in Pitt County, is one such job training and work development program. It has seen more than 2,300 participants graduate with only a recidivism rate of 15 percent. Recidivism is the tendency of a convicted criminal to re-offend.
“We want to get people back in the workforce,” STRIVE Executive Director Rob Lee said. “If people are working, they are productive, they’re not getting in trouble. They’re going to be contributing to the economy.”
Lee said STRIVE is a four-week program that teaches program participants how to act, look, dress, interview and conduct themselves in the workplace.
The program also relies on partnerships with employers who are willing to take a chance on those with convictions in their past.
Lee said many people don’t recognize the barriers convicted criminals face when they get out of prison
“For anyone coming out of the criminal justice system, it’s significant barriers they have to overcome,” he said. “A lot of those are legal barriers. Getting a job or employment, housing, or getting a driver’s license.”
Lee also noted that many former inmates haven’t accessed computers in 10 years and have difficulty checking emails, uploading documents and completing other simple tasks.
Compounding the issues they face when getting out of prison, Lee said changing others’ attitudes and reminding people that they can be successful is not easy.
“A lot of what we do is the attitudinal challenges,” Lee said. “We put people in an environment where whatever challenges they have are going to come out and they’re going to overcome them.”
By the end of the program, Lee said nearly 70 percent of graduates have jobs.
But none of this would be possible without partnerships, Lee said.
“It takes a village. It takes the housing community, the legal community, the mental health and the churches,” Lee said.
Pitt County District Attorney Faris Dixon discussed ways to keep people out of jails and off the streets.
“It’s about resources,” Dixon said. “It’s not about being easy on people but smart and doing things in a smarter manner. This county is blessed. If you look around us, it’s sort of like an oasis among very poor areas. You have to get down to Wilmington to find a community that has more resources than we do.”
Dixon added that his office is trying to work with programs like STRIVE as well as Pitt Community College to allow people to learn job skills so they can be productive members of society. He has also been in talks with Pitt Community College President, Lawrence Rouse.
“I’ve talked with Dr. Rouse about forming a formal partnership,” Dixon said. The partnership could help steer individuals who have gotten into trouble toward PCC so they could learn a trade or further their education, he said.
A representative from PORT Health and District Court Judge Lee Teague discussed mental health and substance abuse treatment options in Pitt County.
Teague said that the goal of Pitt County’s drug court, which he oversees, is to get inmates on a pathway to recovery and to help them lead successful lives.
“They just happen to have an addiction and your heart breaks for them,” Teague said. “When they relapse and reuse, your heart breaks for them. We want them to succeed. We don’t want to kick people out.
“We’re not a program to help them pass sobriety,” Teague said. “We’re a program to help them live a life of recovery. And that is a process for them.”
Dixon shared Teague’s sentiment and said he wants people to get out of the criminal justice system.
“My thing is, for those minor offenses to try and get those people back out of the system and providing for their families; working and being productive,” Dixon said.
On April 23, The Life Empowerment Center, located at 600 W. Third St. is hosting a resources fair from 2-4 p.m. The fair will provide attendees with resources on finding affordable housing as well as connecting them with employment opportunities. For more information, call 752-9774.
Contact Tyler Stocks at 252-329-9566 or firstname.lastname@example.org