Assisting prisoner reentry, new bill would pay formerly incarcerated stipend for food, housing and clothes

By: - April 24, 2023 1:00 pm

A bill introduced in the North Carolina General Assembly would aid formerly incarcerated people reenter society. Image: Adobe Stcok.

A bill filed last week would require the Department of Adult Correction to give indigent people exiting its prisons monthly stipends for housing, food, clothing and transportation for up to six months after their release.

The proposal, filed on April 20 and sponsored by nine Democrats representing Durham, Mecklenburg, Cumberland, Guilford, Wake and Orange counties, attempts to ease the burden on people returning home from prison and make it less likely that they wind up back behind bars.

According to a report published last year by the North Carolina Sentencing and Policy Advisory Commission, almost half of a sample size of 16,340 people released from state prisons in 2019 were rearrested within two years. About a fifth of the people in the sample were convicted of another offense; more than a third returned to a state prison within two years.

Giving formerly incarcerated people cash isn’t unheard of. A New York-based program called Returning Citizens Stimulus dispersed an average of $2,750 over three months so long as participants met certain benchmarks on the road to gaining employment. According to The New York Times, the organization gave money to 10,500 people in six different states, helping keep people financially afloat in the early stages of the pandemic, in April 2020, when entry-level jobs in the service and construction industries were hard to come by.

The bill before the North Carolina legislature would make the amount of the stipends dependent on the availability of funds and the individual’s indigence. Each person could receive up to $3,000 for each time they were released from prison.

The Department of Adult Correction would need to submit a report to the legislature each year on how they used the money.

That isn’t all the proposal, titled “Reentry reform/modification, would do. House Bill 836 would also:

  • Spend $1 million per year to fund five new Local Reentry Councils, the location of which would be determined by the Secretary of Adult Correction.
  • Remove the requirement that 12 months pass from the completion of an individual’s sentence before they can petition the court for a Certificate of Relief to mitigate the collateral consequences of their criminal conviction. This would only apply people convicted of certain crimes.
  • Amend a reporting requirement of each state agency licensing board so that their annual reports also contain information on the number of applicants with criminal convictions who were granted or denied a license or a license renewal because of a nonviolent criminal conviction.
  • Change state law to prohibit occupational licensing boards from denying an applicant a license because of a conviction of a nonviolent crime.

The bill is currently awaiting action in the House.

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Kelan Lyons
Kelan Lyons

Investigative Reporter Kelan Lyons writes about criminal and civil justice, including high-profile litigation, prison and jail conditions, housing, and the challenges people face when they leave prison.