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Cooper touts statewide reentry initiative during visit to Greenville

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People network and visit different booths during a job fair at Third Street Educational Center on Tuesday.

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By Tyler Stocks
The Daily Reflector

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

North Carolinians who have paid their debt to society deserve the opportunity to live productive lives but need help to achieve that goal, according to Gov. Roy Cooper.

Cooper made a special visit to the Life of NC Life Empowerment Center on Tuesday during the Pitt County Reentry Job and Resource Fair. 

The event featured employers and nonprofit organizations who gathered with the goal of building a network of community partners to help individuals transition from prison to the workplace. 

Cooper was on hand to promote Reentry Week, which runs through Friday. The initiative highlights ongoing efforts to help formerly incarcerated North Carolinians successfully return to their communities and careers.

“There are barriers to success,” Cooper said. “Reentry programs help protect public safety, break the cycle of incarceration and strengthen our workforce.”

For 46-year-old Scott Maye, who lives in Greenville, Tuesday’s event was an opportunity to fill out applications, meet with potential employers and find resources to be successful. 

“It means a lot and It’s hard right now for me to get a decent job,” Maye said. “(This) is an opportunity and I’m making an effort putting out applications, trying to find help, trying to better myself and help my family.”

Maye had a message for those who are apprehensive about hiring those with criminal records.

“Regardless of a person’s background and everything, everybody deserves a second, even a third chance,” he said. “If they put forth the effort to better themselves, at least give them a chance.”. 

Sheriff Paula Dance and Greenville Police Chief Mark Holtzman shared Maye’s sentiment about helping people turn their lives around. 

“We depend on programs like this,” Dance said.  “In the end, it keeps our (jail) population down and it does keep that revolving door from just continuing to go round and round with the same people visiting our jail. 

“They’ve got to have something to look forward to and this program actually gives them that,” Dance said. “It’s a win-win for the community. A lot of these people become self sustaining, get jobs and become taxpayers. Many of them want to pay their fair share but they’ve got to learn those skills. I’m not saying give them a handout, but give them a hand up.”

Holtzman said the hard truth is that just about everybody that goes to jail is going to come back out.

“We have to be ready for when they come out to help them succeed in life,” he said. “If you have a healthy reentry program for a community, you’re much better off overall and it just pays dividends down the road.”

District Attorney Faris Dixon said that he is excited to be a part of events like Tuesday’s and that resource fairs help people survive once they exit the criminal justice system.

“I think this important to make sure people don’t come back into the system,” Dixon said. “I was always taught not to just work but to work smart, and I think this is the community working smart, realizing you just can’t let people out of the criminal justice system and expect them to be able to survive.

“You have to help them so they can be productive again,” Dixon said. 

Tuesday’s event drew hundreds of people from all over the community, something that pleased Life of NC Director, Rob Lee. Life of NC hosted the job fair.

“Everyone’s created equal and everyone has value from God and we want to give them that shot at success,” Lee said. “You need people to give them a hand up and help them overcome some of the significant obstacles that face people coming out of the criminal justice system.”

While convicted criminals are not eligible for some jobs, Cooper said there are many opportunities available to help people put their lives back together. 

“There’s some jobs people with criminal records cannot have and should not have,” he said. “But there are many other jobs that are available to people to help them have productive lives. This effort is about coordinating help for them, getting them back into our communities, keeping our communities safe and making people’s lives more productive.”

With thousands of people getting out of prison each year, Cooper said it’s important for people to remember that prison is more than about incarceration. 

“We want it to be restoration,” Cooper said. 

To date, North Carolina has turned 12 state minimum custody prisons into reentry facilities that provide resources to help incarcerated people return to their communities, a news release from Cooper’s office said.

“We are working diligently to reduce the barriers formerly incarcerated people will have to a successful return to the workforce and community,” said Public Safety Secretary Erik Hooks, who also chairs the State Reentry Council Collaborative. “We are not only providing information on housing and employment but supplying people in our facilities with the tools to return to their families. This will help in creating stronger communities and fewer returns to prison."

In 2017, the legislature created the State Reentry Council Collaborative (SRCC), which includes representatives from state agencies, the community college system, the judicial branch and community and faith-based organizations. The SRCC has developed recommendations on how to reduce barriers and help people leaving prison find resources.

“What we need to do is make it easier for people to assimilate back into society and to be able to support themselves and their families,” Cooper said.

Contact Tyler Stocks at tstocks@reflector.com or 252-329-9566. 

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