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Gov. Cooper Signs Order to Improve Reentry Process for Incarcerated People

Executive order seen as latest in series of recent milestones

Outside of North Caroline reentry facility The Center for Community Transitions
The Center for Community Transitions facility in northeast Charlotte. (Photo by Ryan Pitkin)

Gov. Roy Cooper this week signed an executive order that aims to improve the reentry process for formerly incarcerated people in North Carolina. Executive Order No. 303 directs whole-of-government coordination to improve reentry for formerly incarcerated people in what Cooper’s office is calling “the most significant effort targeted at strengthening reentry in state history.” 

The order, which brings North Carolina in line with the national Reentry2030 initiative, aims to accomplish the goals of improving the reentry process through specific directives developed in partnership with each state cabinet agency, the Office of State Human Resources, and the Post-Release Supervision and Parole Commission, building on the existing mission of the North Carolina Department of Adult Correction (DAC), according to a press release from Cooper’s office on Monday. 

“Strengthening reentry services for formerly incarcerated people is both the right and smart thing to do,” Cooper stated in the release. “Employers are looking for new and skilled workers while many formerly incarcerated people are eager to change their lives, get a job and join their communities. This Executive Order directs a whole-of-government approach to improve reentry services, strengthen our economy, make communities safer and give people the second chance they deserve.”

In issuing the order and joining Reentry2030, the state has outlined several metrics that it is committing to achieving by 2030. They are as follows:

  • Increasing the number of high school and post-secondary credentials earned by incarcerated individuals by 75%.
  • Reducing the number of incarcerated individuals who are homeless upon release by 50%.
  • Providing reentry assistance to previously incarcerated people in every county in the state through local reentry councils.
  • Increasing the number of post-secondary degrees offered in facilities by 25%.
  • Increasing the number of Pell Grant partners by 30%.
  • Ensuring all eligible incarcerated individuals are offered the opportunity to apply for Medicaid before release.
  • Increasing the number of apprenticeships completed by incarcerated individuals by 50%, and
  • Increasing the number of second chance employer partners by 30%.

The Executive Order contains directives for each cabinet agency, the Office of State Human Resources (OSHR), and the Post-Release Supervision and Parole Commission. These directives include:

  • Increasing the number of second-chance employers
  • Increasing career services, pre-screening and informing incarcerated people of their eligibility for benefits, such as SNAP, TANF, Medicaid, and more upon release
  • Providing resources to educate incarcerated people on the process to obtain a driver’s license
  • Providing opportunities to justice-involved veterans
  • Improving opportunities involving education, family engagement, and transition services to youth in the juvenile justice system
  • Increasing work release, apprenticeship, and employment opportunities for incarcerated or previously incarcerated people in state government
  • Reviewing and improving Parole Commission processes around reentry and participation in the Mutual Agreement Parole Program (MAPP)
  • Making resources available to allow incarcerated people to communicate with justice system partners to resolve outstanding legal issues

Patrice Funderburg, executive director of The Center for Community Transitions, a nonprofit that helps women transition out of incarceration from its facility in northeast Charlotte, praised the order as “another important step in North Carolina’s attempt to lay a solid foundation rooted in systems, policies and legislation.” 

Funderburg referenced previous legislation and policy changes that have led up to this week’s executive order, including the Dignity for Women Who Are Incarcerated Act (2021), Raise the Age (2019), Right to Work/Occupational Licensing Board Reform (2019), the North Carolina Reentry Action Plan (2018), and the creation of the State Reentry Council Collaborative (2018). 

“While it doesn’t explicitly state it in the executive order, I also think it is important to publicly say that the leadership and lived expertise of directly impacted people during the aforementioned initiatives is a built-in potential strength of the order, even if the approach is whole of government,” Funderburg told Queen City Nerve. 

“The cabinet agencies named should look to do the same as they begin to develop or expand plans not in the order,” she continued. “The people behind those walls are the experts on the best way to actualize sustainable results.” 

Center for Community Transitions (CCT), which runs a work-release program for women who are still incarcerated by the state and finishing up their sentences, including housing those women in a 30-bed dorm at their facilities on Old Concord Road, remains the only organization contracted with DAC to carry out such work since the mid-1980s. 

“In 2021, when CCT stood up a behavioral health department at the center for women, DAC helped with contract language,” Funderburg said. “My expectation is that this executive order helps us move from contract language only to investments in the people and programs who do this important work.” 

Group activities in the Center for Community Transitions dorm in 2021. CCT is the only work release and reentry organization contracted with the North Carolina Department of Adult Correction.  (Photo courtesy of CCT)

The order also strengthens prison education by adding all prison higher education, apprenticeship, and workforce partners to the existing Prison Education Consortium, a group that advises the DAC on prison education. 

The order directs DAC to ensure, as much as possible, that prison education programs “lead to labor market-driven degrees or credentials, establish quality measures and evaluation for all programs, increase utilization of newly available Pell Grants, minimize when possible the movement of incarcerated people who are currently enrolled in programs, and more.” 

Learn more: Center for Community Transitions Changes the Narrative Around Criminal Justice

The order establishes a Joint Reentry Council composed of representatives from each cabinet agency, OSHR, the Office of State Budget and Management, the Parole Commission, and the Task Force for Racial Equity in Criminal Justice. The council is tasked with creating a strategic plan with measurable goals to improve reentry and with reporting on progress towards those metrics.

Funderburg said that, while Gov. Cooper’s order is welcome, it will be important to ensure that whoever follows in his role continues on the path he and his administration have started upon.  

“This being an election year, I would hope to see whomever steps into the governor’s office continue to support the implementation of the named committees, drawing from the successes of the [State Reentry Council Collaborative] committees and holding accountable those within each cabinet agency for tangible results.”

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