Reentry Week 2019: Initiatives Such as Reentry Simulations Foster Compassion

Guilford County reentry simulation training
Tuesday, April 23, 2019 - 2:01pm

Governor Roy Cooper proclaimed this week as Reentry Week. Supporting incarcerated and supervised individuals as they successfully reenter their communities has been a major point of emphasis in 2019, with events including the state’s first annual Reentry Summit held in Greensboro in March.  

Every year in North Carolina, tens of thousands of people complete their sentences and are eligible to transition back into society. The ultimate goal is that they become productive citizens. However, this population is particularly at risk, facing obstacles to finding work, housing, health care, transportation and everything else needed to be successful in the transition.

The network that interacts with formerly-incarcerated people includes local reentry councils, public and private partners, the court system and law enforcement. Compassion and understanding are needed from everyone involved.

In another exciting initiative happening in the Piedmont, officials have been conducting “reentry simulation” trainings to place players, such as probation and parole officers, in the shoes of a formerly-incarcerated person trying to reenter the community. The training assigns participants with a situation such a person might face during reentry, and goals to perform during a “week” that is condensed down to a time-limited round of the simulation. A goal might be to obtain an ID, complete drug testing, or get a job. The first training was held in February and was hosted by the Guilford County Sheriff’s Office.

The “success rate” to complete those goals was not high. Participants found themselves in a maze of waiting lines and dealing with problems such as a lack of transportation. If the participant failed to complete a goal, they ended up in “jail.”

Guilford County Probation and Parole Officer Nam Trang called it a “raw experience.”

“It helped me relate to what offenders go through —the frustration, the setbacks,” he said after participating in the simulation. “It really broadened my horizons.”

Guilford County Reentry Director Edward “Chap” Williams deserves much of the credit for introducing this type of training in his county. After participating in a simulation offered by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of North Carolina, he was moved by the effect of this training: “I realized that I didn’t know all that formerly-incarcerated individuals go through. I knew that we had to bring this to Guilford County.”

Angela Williams (no relation), a judicial district manager in District 18, said she hopes this type of training might someday be used across the state. “We need our officers to see the struggle incarcerated persons face in trying to come back to society,” she said. Supervisors participated in another simulation training in Davidson County earlier this month.

The concept of reentry simulation training is beginning to take hold. On Tuesday, the Buncombe County Local Reentry Council held a similar type of training in Asheville.

Reentry simulation training is just one example of outside-the-box thinking to work together and help support successful reentries. This week, local reentry councils across the state are working to continue to build a strong network and advance the objectives of the state’s Reentry Action Plan. Helping those at risk of turning back to crime is a noble cause, and in the end, it makes us all safer.

George McCue