Finding hope. We all want it. We all need it, yet many are still seeking it. When there is a ray of light that looks like hope, we reach for it. Hope is what repeat offenders find in the Mecklenburg County Work Release and Restitution Center (WRRC) in the heart of downtown Charlotte. Screening Manager Dorian Johnson who has been at the center since its beginning in 1997 says it is why residents keep coming back when they are out in the community on work release. They could escape, but they don’t.
The Citizens’ Academy of the Sheriff’s Office had the privilege to learn about the program on Tuesday night. As one of the attendees, I found it to be a very worthwhile program as I will show in this post.
Of the 2.1 million incarcerated nationwide, 95% will be released at some point in their life. The WRRC targets repeat offenders to put a halt to the criminal cycle. Think about how positive changes can eliminate the revolving door of: Release–Continued risky lifestyle that probably includes substance abuse–Criminal Activity–Back to Jail. Yikes! Not a pretty picture.
If we break the cycle, how will it benefit the offender? How will it affect the community? Could something positive come out of Work Release and Restitution?
Let’s back up a minute and start at the beginning. Who is in the program? Inmates enter the program voluntarily. They are sentenced in the custody of the sheriff for 180 days or less for a felony or misdemeanor. Inmates undergo a psycho social assessment that looks at mental, physical, substance abuse, education, and family support issues. Dorian told us that it must be determined if it is safe to bring the inmate into the program. They must be free of all substances, which requires daily drug testing. Programs available to them are: substance abuse classes, AA/NA meetings, life skills and anger management classes, individual counseling, job preparedness, and religious services. They receive room and board at the center.
Obtaining a job is the key ingredient to becoming a viable part of the community and leaving a life of crime behind. Monica Lindsey, the coordinator who works with inmates on seeking employment, explained the process. She works directly with inmates and employers to put them together.
How does the employer benefit from hiring someone from WRRC? Monica stated that because of strict requirements of inmates to stay in the program, the employer gets this: An employee who will always show up, come to work on time, go through daily drug testing (therefore, always sober), willing to give back to community, involved in volunteerism, continually works with a counselor.
How does this program benefit the community? On work release, the inmate must pay 20% of their room and board, 70% court ordered restitution, child support, or the like, 10% in a savings account. And of course, an employed person pays taxes.
We were privileged to speak with two young men in the program that said they had no plans to ever return to the jail system. I got the impression that they were turning their lives around. I believe I am correct to assume that the program has saved lives and improved the livelihood of the offenders and their families.
Does it work? You bet. Only 32% of participants are rearrested within 12 months. 82% successfully complete the program. 70% find employment. And they pay back: Partial cost of incarceration, restitution for victims, taxes, and family support.
Before we left, I asked the question if there was a similar program in place in other counties in North Carolina. I was told that there is no other program like this in our state although there are other types of restitution and work release. The WRRC is modeled after a similar program in Maryland. Residents of Mecklenburg County should insist that this program continue its valuable work and that funding NOT be cut. It is that important. Do you agree? If so, let our county commissioners know. I welcome your comments, so feel free to leave a comment. Thank you, Dorian Johnson and Monica Lindsey for educating the Citizen’s Academy on this beneficial program and a super-sized thanks for your passion and dedication.
Note: In photo above, Dorian Johnson, Screening Manager, is pictured on the right.