Another chance for ex-convicts

Goal of governor's task force is to help offenders stay out of prison

Staff writerSeptember 17, 2009 

— A state task force will try to prevent ex-convicts from going back to prison.

Gov. Beverly Perdue announced 34 members of the StreetSafe Task Force, which will try to find ways to curb recidivism. Every year, 28,000 people are released from prison into a world where their pasts make it difficult to find a decent job and a place to live. Perdue said keeping people from going back to prison is one of the best ways to keep state residents safe.

"This is all about being tougher on crime," Perdue said. "We help people stay out of prison by giving them a life and a job and a capacity to succeed in the community and that's what we want so dare not anybody tell me, 'Oh Bev, you're going soft.' Because I tell you what, if 'soft' means keeping people from being repeat offenders, then I think North Carolina should adopt that motto."

It costs, on average, more than $27,000 a year to keep someone locked up. StepUP Ministries, a Raleigh-based nonprofit, can train an ex-offender, teach him or her life skills and help with a successful job hunt for $1,200, said Attorney General Roy Cooper.

"This is the safe thing to do, it's the smart thing to do and it's the right thing to do," Cooper said.

Cooper, who will be a co-chairman of the task force, said within three years of leaving prison or finishing probation, 36 percent to 40 percent of offenders are arrested again.

Delores Jennings, 54, of Raleigh, said she had enough of going in and out of jail for thefts she said were driven by her addiction to alcohol and drugs.

In 2004 when she was released from a 30-month sentence, Jennings decided she wasn't going back. But Jennings' record made it hard to get a job or a home that was not near drug-infested neighborhoods.

At age 50, she found herself working at McDonald's. Jennings went back to school and eventually found a job at the Raleigh Rescue Mission, where she works with clients who have mental illnesses. Now Jennings has been appointed to serve on the task force.

"I want to advocate and pave the way for others," she said.

ben.niolet@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4521

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