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Pilot program tailored to county jail

Posted August 31, 2014

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— Project Re-entry has been so successful that officials decided to try it at the Cabarrus County Detention Center.

The jail program, which began in 2012, is the first of its kind in North Carolina. It was made possible through a grant from the Governor's Crime Commission.

The two-year pilot program has been tailored to fit the needs of inmates serving sentences for misdemeanor convictions. Instead of 16 weeks, the inmates are offered classes for 11 weeks to help them find jobs and to support them upon their release.

Rebecca Sauter, coordinator for Project Re-entry, acknowledges that the jail program has faced bumps along the way.

Prisoners are more humble than jail inmates, most of whom spend much less time locked up, Sauter said.

But Cabarrus County Sheriff Brad Riley says the new program has been successful.

"We have found that in every one of those classes, we get through to those people." Riley said. "What better way to take up their time than to educate them as to what causes some of their problems."

Cabarrus County has been a leader in jail reform in North Carolina since 2006, when it first received a federal Project Safe Neighborhoods grant.

At that time, the county and its two largest cities, Concord and Kannapolis, each agreed to pay a third of the cost to hire a coordinator to oversee what is now known as Project Safe Cabarrus.

The program is a collaborative effort that emphasizes getting violent people off the streets largely by sending them through the federal court system, where punishment can be more severe.

The project also is used to provide "call-ins" for people convicted of serious crimes who are released on probation. During the call-ins, people are offered assistance and told in no uncertain terms what will happen to them if they run afoul of the law again. Cumberland County has a similar program, called Operation Ceasefire.

Project Safe Cabarrus is headed by Jodi Ramirez, who also oversees Project Re-entry in the jail and the many other programs offered to inmates. Grant money was used to hire a separate Re-entry Project coordinator for the jail.

After the Cabarrus County Detention Center opened in 2011, Ramirez said, it began offering inmates a wide variety of programs in classrooms built for that purpose.

The classes include Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, literacy, religious studies and domestic violence courses for female inmates.

In all, Ramirez said, more than 50 volunteers teach 36 classes a week inside the jail. A library will be added soon, she said.

Cumberland County has programs for inmates, as well, although the sheriff's legal counsel, Ronnie Mitchell, acknowledged that they may not be as plentiful or as organized as those in Cabarrus County.

The Cumberland County jail stopped its GED program for inmates but plans to restart it next month, Mitchell said. It also is working to establish a partnership with the Cumberland County library system.

G. Pate, the Cumberland County jail's head chaplain, spearheads numerous jail programs, including a re-entry team that helps find inmates a place to live and a job before they leave.

Pate, who asked that her full first name not be used, said finding jobs and housing for the inmates is tough because few people in the county are willing to take a chance on them.

"I believe that we as a whole in this county have a responsibility for the people who live in this county to at least do something to help make a difference," she said.

Pate, pastor of Healing Hands of Love Kingdom Connections on B Street, said pastors and others who volunteer at the jail are helping inmates to read, find pen-pals, study the Bible, and change their attitudes and behaviors.

Pate has been a volunteer with the jail for 14 years. She said she has never received a dime for her services and doesn't care to.

"Just the thought of seeing someone's life change, that's rewarding to me," she said.

Staff writer Greg Barnes can be reached at barnesg@fayobserver.com or 486-3525.

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