The Guilford County Sheriff’s Department really, really wanted more county funding for an expanded “Reentry Program” that will help inmates reenter society after leaving jail or prison, and, at a Monday afternoon, June 17 Board of Commissioners work session, that wish was granted: The board approved $80,000 in additional funding from the Inmate Welfare Fund to expand that program.

Guilford County’s reentry program, which began one year ago and currently operates annually on about $150,000 in grant money, helps connect the inmates with family members, educational and employment opportunities, housing, mental health and substance abuse treatment and other services.  The Sheriff’s Department requested the increase in funding so that the program will have its own office space, computers for former inmates to use, some food and clothing for clients in need and other resources to enhance the program’s capabilities.

Sharon Harrison-Pope, a grants manager with the Sheriff’s Department who’s helping administer the Reentry Program, told the board that, in North Carolina, more than 20,000 state prisoners are released each year and about 17,000 inmates are released from the county jail.  Harrison-Pope said the program does “needs assessments” and tries to remove barriers that prevent successful reentry into society.

She said that, even when it comes to the inmates from state prison, Guilford County still needs to help them because, if those inmates don’t integrate successfully, they will go back to a life of crime.

Robert Lang, an assistant United States attorney with 34 years of prosecution experience, spoke to the commissioners about the program.  Lang, who works at the federal level on violence reduction strategies, said that a well-equipped reentry program could help bring down violence in society.

Eventually, Lang said, his office would like to see 100 reentry councils in North Carolina – one in each county – but, he added, right now the effort is starting with the urban areas.  Lang said his office had put in a lot of work already into Guilford County and said that expanding the program would help address some “low-hanging fruit.”

Lang also said it helps to get them at a young age.

“If we can grab them when they come out, we can turn these guys,” he said.

He added, “You just can’t have a part-time person at the Sheriff’s Department working on this 10 hours a week.”