From the News & Observer: http://www.newsobserver.com/opinion/op-ed/article41711625.html More than 1,200 people could be released into Raleigh and Durham under new sentencing guidelines for drug offenses. CHRISTOPHER A. RECORD
It costs approximately $80 a day to house a person in a North Carolina prison. With over 37,000 people serving time in our state, officials have understandably prioritized reducing prison populations with considerable gusto over the past decade.
While many of those efforts have been successful, the effect of one particular change has yet to be seen – that of the U.S. Sentencing Commission’s unanimous decision to reduce the sentencing guidelines for most federal drug trafficking charges beginning Sunday.
That’s right. North Carolina has only days left until this change takes effect.
Officials estimate that approximately 1,200 men and women will return to their communities in Raleigh and Durham over the course of 2016. Overall, this is great news. Families will be reunited, and individuals will begin rebuilding lives that were put on hold for years and, for some, decades.
The success of those re-entering, however, is not certain. The ABA Criminal Justice Section estimates that there are approximately 17,000 collateral consequences to having a criminal record, the majority of which affect one’s ability to secure two of the most basic necessities: employment and housing. Without a safe place to stay and a legitimate source of income, one’s chances of recidivating skyrocket.
We, the people of North Carolina, need to carefully consider how we will welcome these returning citizens. More specifically, we need to ask ourselves how we plan to lower the barriers to their re-entry.
After working with re-entering men and women for several years now, I have come to appreciate that sheer willpower on the part of a re-entering individual is not enough to ensure successful reintegration. Business owners must consider how their hiring practices affect people’s ability to support their families. Landlords must consider how their housing policies prevent men and women from finding a safe, affordable place to lay their heads. Faith leaders must inform and train their communities on how to welcome and support returning citizens.
The health of our community depends on how well these and other gatekeepers steward the resources they hold. Will they rent to someone with a record? Will they hire a candidate with a background?
I sincerely hope so because the well-being and safety of our state depend on it.
Erin Roesch is director of Development & Employer Recruitment at StepUp Ministry in Durham.