Governor Roy Cooper has proclaimed August 2020 as Reentry Month in North Carolina, highlighting the needs of “reentrants,” individuals released from incarceration transitioning back into the community. The proclamation draws attention to North Carolina’s Reentry Action Plan, which, among other things, supports the development of additional Local Reentry Councils--networks of individuals and agencies providing support and coordination of services to facilitate the transition for reentrants and their families. These partnerships with agencies, NGOs, and other stakeholders are essential for successful reintegration and community connection for justice-involved individuals. Local Reentry Councils (LRC) are staffed by Coordinators and Case Managers and work directly with reentrants. They are organized by county and meet quarterly with stakeholders to network, share information and educate the community.
Currently 639 of every 100,000 North Carolina residents are incarcerated. In North Carolina, there were 391 allegations of sexual victimization of inmates in custody reported by state and federal prison authorities between 2007-2008, according to the DOJ Report “Sexual Victimization Reported by Adult Correctional Authorities, 2007-2008.” A more recent study reports that in 2016, 820 allegations of sexual abuse and harassment were made in North Carolina adult correctional facilities (2016 NCDPS: 2015 – 2016 Sexual Abuse Annual Report).
Yearly, 22,000 inmates are released from NC’s prison system. Many of those released are survivors of sexual violence that occurred prior to, or during, the time of incarceration. Barriers to healing from sexual violence are compounded as survivors must also cope with transitioning from incarceration, often returning with bringing significant mental health needs into the community. Therefore, survivors need the things that promote stability and well-being such as food, shelter, clothing, access to health care, and reliable transportation. Other needs include employment, substance use treatment, access to financial institutions and assistance with fees and rent.
Survivors also need the support and meaningful connection to the community. Re-establishing disrupted relationships with family and friends, and connecting with support groups, mentors, and faith communities can build resilience and emotional health, and help regain a sense of safety and purpose. Using one's own voice and lived experience to educate others and advocate for change can also be a path to healing.
Supporting survivor reentrants not only includes coordinating resources, but also removing barriers, and increasing equal access to those resources. This is especially important, as many reentrants hold marginalized identities, and have experienced harm and injustice due to policies and practices in systems that were not created to uphold equal protection or provide equal access. Stigma with being incarcerated carries its own challenges, including suspicion and distrust from the community, and the denial of employment and housing. This experience can feel like perpetually “serving time,” creating additional burdens for survivors who must daily negotiate their own safety.
To better support reentrants who are survivors of sexual violence, NCCASA is currently working with the Local Reentry Council in Orange County and Orange County Rape Crisis Center on a pilot program to 1) develop and implement a training plan for the reentry council members on the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA), sexual assault and including human trafficking, 2) cross-train LRC and RCC staff on serving incarcerated survivors of sexual violence and human trafficking and 3) create a resource tool for reentrant survivors that provides information on sexual violence, human trafficking, and how to access support.
This project provides training and technical assistance from NCCASA to bring together the Orange County LRC and the RCC communities in the establishment of a more meaningful relationship to enhance their collective work with not only re-entrants, but all incarcerated survivors. This collaborative social justice framework reflects the work of NCCASA’s building capacity with local rape crisis centers in ensuring that marginalized communities are centered in anti-sexual violence work.
We appreciate the recognition of North Carolina Reentry work and the efforts “underway at the federal, state, and local levels to establish programs and policies focused on removing the barriers that prevent formerly incarcerated people from pursuing healthy and productive lives.” --Governor Cooper's Proclamation of August as Reentry Month