By Meg Moss, Chamber of Commerce Executive Director
By proclamation of North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper, April 2021 is “Second Chance Month.” Per the proclamation, “nearly all incarcerated individuals will eventually leave prison or jail and return to communities across the state.” That includes our own community. Fortunately, there is a group of interested citizens, lead by Dr. Crystal McIver, who are stepping up to ensure these former offenders have the skills they need to be successful and not reenter the justice system.
“Experience 180 is a 501 (c) 3 nonprofit organization that was created to provide programs that assist individuals with changing the direction they are moving through self-advocacy, empowerment, and resource connections ” sates McIver. “Within Experience 180 is a ‘Total Package’ program that addresses the wholistic needs of those exiting the justice system.”
The Governor’s proclamation goes on to say that “formerly incarcerated individuals face many hurdles in securing employment, housing transportation and health care.” “That’s true,” agrees McIver, “some of the individuals we are working with through Experience 180, and it’s Total Package program are far from ready for employment. They need a residence, an ID, computer skills, and a reliable way to get to a job. We’re working on all of these aspects of success, not just employment. These individuals need hope”
There are many formerly incarcerated individuals who are ready for employment, however, and employers have the opportunity to tap into this underutilized skilled workforce. Hiring from this population not only can help meet employers’ needs for skilled workers, but also may include financial incentives, through the Federal Bonding program ($5,000 in coverage per fidelity bond, free of charge) and the Work Opportunity Tax Credit (up to a $2,400 tax credit for each eligible employee under the ex-felon category). Pamela Glover, Business Consultant at the Lee County NCWorks Career Center, would happily entertain questions about these programs. She can be reached at 919-775-2241.
“Efforts are underway at the federal, local and state levels to establish programs and policies focused on removing the barriers that prevent formerly incarcerated people from pursuing healthy and productive lives” states the proclamation. McIver and her team of volunteers are working with the Department of Public Safety to create a local Re-Entry council that meets the state’s criteria to receive funding to provide services. According to the Governor’s proclamation, “North Carolina’s Reentry Action Plan outlines strategies for supporting and enhancing current reentry initiatives across North Carolina and highlights evidence-based strategies for addressing the challenges faced by justice-involved people and their families.”
“There’s a stigma involved. There is fear of the unknown. But there is opportunity for people to give a lending hand, and a chance to gain a better understanding of the trials and tribulations of the justice-involved” stated McIver. Through the development of the Reentry Council for Lee County, McIver and the Experience 180 Board Members have created relationships and partnerships formed for the purpose of assisting those who have gone through the justice system, and are ready for a fresh start. McIver has pulled together nonprofits, faith-based groups, the Community College, the Sheriff’s Department, the Sanford Area Growth Alliance and others who can play a critical role in providing resources important for successful reentry into the community.