The Guilford County Sheriff’s Department is requesting that Guilford County expand a program established to help former inmates and prisoners reenter society and become law-abiding, productive members of it. The Department stated this week that, since the department is focused on fiscal responsibility, the request calls for the move to be paid for with money from the Inmate Welfare Fund – a fund containing money generated from inmates and their families rather than from the county’s taxpayers.
Guilford County Sheriff Danny Rogers, in his 2019-2010 budget request, is asking the Guilford County Board of Commissioners to use revenues from that fund to cover the cost of expanding the Reentry Program. That fund raises money each year through charges on collect calls made from the county’s jails as well as through the profit generated by the sale of commissary products in the jails.
Guilford County Sheriff’s Department Public Information Officer Max Benbassat said the move makes sense.
“The inmates pay for these products and services with their own funds,” he said. “The sheriff is requesting the revenues to be used to pay for programs, training, and associated costs to assist the inmates upon their release-through the existing Reentry Program.”
Currently, Guilford County is working with the NC Department of Public Safety on the Reentry Program. Reentry Councils operate in nearly 20 of the state’s 100 counties. According to statistics provided by the Sheriff’s Department, each year, more than 22,000 people are released from prisons across North Carolina. A lot of inmates are also released from county jails. In Guilford County alone, about 17,000 are released from the two jails every year.
A largely disproportionate number of state prisoners, who are released from state prison, come to Guilford County when they get out. One state law enforcement official told the Rhino Times last year that was because, while in jail, the inmates talk among themselves and some tell others that there are a lot of services provided by government and non-profits in Guilford County – such as shelters, government benefits and free meals.
The main goal of the new reentry program effort in Guilford County is to reduce recidivism. Benbassat stated this week that Guilford County’s reentry program is currently assisting approximately 200 people. In the process, caseworkers help the former inmates get on track. They are referred to the community services they need, which can include housing, substance abuse treatment and employment services.
“Through Sheriff Roger’s innovative plan to let the inmate’s own purchases sustain this program, it will not be another program funded with tax dollars,” Benbassat stated in a press release this week.
In that release, he went on to say that, during the first six months in office, Rogers has “demonstrated his commitment in analyzing the effectiveness of internal departmental programs to ensure fiscal responsibility.”
Benbassat stated that Rogers’ recommendations and project analysis practices have resulted in significant cost savings for county taxpayers.
“The previous estimate for the construction of the Sheriff’s Office new administration building was $17 million,” he wrote. “The new plans approved by the Sheriff’s Office and by the Board of County Commissioners reduced that to $12 million. This resulted in a savings of $5 million to Guilford County taxpayers.”
He added that Rogers’ elimination of the unaccredited DNA Program which, to date, has cost the taxpayers more than half a million dollars – approximately $645,000 in the 33 months of its operation – and said that will reduce budget costs in 2019-2010 as well as in coming years.
“This money was allocated from the taxpayers of Guilford County through the Sheriff’s Office budget while still paying additional cost to send samples to private labs,” he said.
That move to get rid of the department’s in-house DNA testing program was a highly controversial one earlier this year. Critics said the county would lose a valuable resource since, with the rapid testing equipment, it could get back results very quickly and catch criminals faster. Rogers and his top staff argued that the program was expensive and rarely used, and he said that if the department does need results back fast then they could pay private labs to do so quickly.
Benbassat stated, “Each year, departments are asked to find ways to reduce cost without reducing services. This request is challenging to any department with rising economic costs and departmental needs. That’s why we are pleased to announce the expansion of the reentry program will save tax dollars, increase public safety, and most important, it will positively transform lives – which should be the goal of any law enforcement agency.”