State Public Safety Officials Conclude Project Providing COVID-19 Quarantine Shelter to Recently Released Offenders

Author: Greg Thomas, Communications Officer

With new COVID-19 cases on the decline, prisons providing vaccinations to all incarcerated individuals who want the vaccine; and  vaccines now widely available in communities across the state; the N.C. Department of Public Safety is wrapping up a project that provided quarantine space to recently released offenders who may have been exposed to COVID-19 prior to release. This group would have otherwise been homeless or didn’t have a stable home to go to following completion of their sentences.

The project was a partnership between DPS’ Division of Adult Correction and Juvenile Justice, Durham County and the city of Durham. The effort provided short-term temporary shelter at a motel in Durham for a limited number of offenders who completed their prison sentences and transitioned to post-release supervision. DPS rented the entire motel for the project.

NC General Statutes prohibit offenders from remaining in prison after the completion of their sentence, whether they were exposed to the virus ordo not have a suitable residence to return to at release.  

“This was an unprecedented global health crisis. There was no playbook to follow,” said Tim Moose, chief deputy secretary for Adult Correction and Juvenile Justice. “But we have many dedicated, talented people who quickly got this project up and running. Their tireless efforts are really what made this project effective. Our staff in the Reentry, Programs, and Probation-Parole divisions made this an exceptional model for crisis response”

Participants were medically monitored by nursing staff, they had a roof over their head, three meals a day and assistance with finding stable housing in their home community. All of these items are supports that are necessary for anyone getting out of prison to make that transition successful.

“Early on in the pandemic it became apparent there would be a tremendous challenge with finding safe places for recently-released offenders to stay during their quarantine. Many families were very reluctant for a family member to return home for fear of COVID-19, and beds in homeless shelters and transitional housing just weren’t available,” said Nicole Sullivan, deputy secretary for analysis programing and policy. “This was an innovative program that helped protect the offenders, their families and the public at large from the spread of COVID-19.”

Demand for the project has eased now that vaccines are widely available and more formerly incarcerated people are being welcomed home. Homeless shelters, residential programs, and transitional housing beds are also becoming more available. New project referrals ended earlier this month, and all residents will transition out by the end of the month.

Response from the participants was overwhelmingly positive. Program Director Tieshia Young heard first-hand from many participants who were very thankful of the project. “So many of them were so grateful and appreciative of what we were doing for people without a place to go. One man told me he didn’t think he would have survived on the street with his medical conditions and appreciated the care very much,” Young said.

“Every community has had their hands full dealing with COVID-19,” Moose said. “We are really fortunate and thankful for the support and partnership of Durham County and the city of Durham, along with our contract business partners for stepping out of the box with us on this project and making it successful.”

In all, 557 formerly incarcerated individuals participated in the nine-month project. It was a part of the FEMA guidelines for providing non-congregate housing during a pandemic.

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