First State Reentry Summit Paves Path for Collaboration and Action

Wednesday, March 20, 2019 - 9:55am

Gov. Cooper headlines cast of key players working to remove barriers faced by people leaving prisons

You could hear a pin drop in the grand ballroom at Greensboro’s Koury Convention Center.  More than 500 people from community and faith-based organizations, as well as representatives from law enforcement agencies, the judicial system, government agencies and the state legislature had gathered for North Carolina’s first Reentry Summit.  The crowd listened attentively, as they were gripped by the story of William Elmore, who had served nearly 25 years in prison after having been given a death sentence.  He told the audience how he managed to survive for years behind bars, and how he thrived after he was released and given a second chance.

“The key to successful reentry is relationships,” said Elmore.  “When a person comes out of prison and develops relationships, whether they are in the church or in the community, that gives people the chance to get to know the formerly incarcerated person as an individual, and not judge him or her based on their past. Knowing the individual removes the stigma that comes with that label of having been in prison.” 

The theme for the Summit was: “Harnessing Hope for People Returning from Incarceration.”  The message speaks directly to the aim of the Summit, to bring together the people, experts and resources who play major roles in removing the barriers faced by people when they return to their communities.  In North Carolina, that number averages more than 22,000 a year. In 2017 North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper and the General Assembly took a historic step by creating the State Reentry Council Collaborative, a group tasked with finding the solutions to the challenges faced in the areas of housing, employment, transportation, health care and mental health services, education and reuniting with family.  Governor Cooper, a long-time advocate for removing the barriers faced by people when they transition back to their communities, struck a compassionate chord with the crowd – some of whom were formerly incarcerated – as he told the story of Stanley, a man who found it difficult to navigate the societal traps he faced after being released from prison.

“Everyone deserves the right not to have his past mistakes held against him,” said the Governor.  “We know that some 22,000 people come back to our society.  We need to make sure that instead of just incarceration, we are talking about restoration of people who can be redeemed.”
That same sentiment was echoed by State Attorney General Josh Stein as he addressed Summit attendees. 

“Effective reentry helps us all,” said Stein.  “If we make it hard for people to do the right thing, we make it easy for them to do the wrong thing.  Community and faith organizations along with state entities can work together to improve the lives of formerly incarcerated people.”
Judge Reuben Young, Chief Deputy Secretary for the Department of Public Safety, moderated the morning session of the Summit. 

“Reentry is about changing lives. Individuals who were formerly incarcerated deserve opportunities to be good citizens,” said Young. “To demand that people pay a debt that they no longer owe is both morally and legally wrong.”

State and community leaders as well as lawmakers believe that successful reentry has a trickle-down effect.  Giving formerly incarcerated people the resources and support they need reduces the likelihood that a person will repeat criminal activity.  Inevitably, productive citizens help build a strong economy, safe neighborhoods and an improved quality of life for all North Carolina citizens.   

Those attending the day-long Summit participated in various break-out sessions centering on the focus areas where formerly incarcerated people need assistance.  This was also a chance for people working in the reentry arena to have open dialogue and network to learn more about local and statewide reentry initiatives.  

Author: 
Sonja Bennett-Bellamy