Block party marks reentry week


N.C. Attorney General Josh Stein speaks Wednesday at the NEW Reentry Council’s Rock the Block Party in downtown Rocky Mount.


Staff Writer

Thursday, April 26, 2018

A high-ranking state official joined local residents on Wednesday in Rocky Mount to support a community event by a local organization helping people with criminal records or coming out of prison readjust to society.

N.C. Attorney General Josh Stein was on hand at the NEW Reentry Council’s first-time Rock the Block Party held on the grounds at NEED Inc. on South Church Street. Stein talked and shook hands with people who attended the event.

He also engaged in a dialogue with the several vendors at the event, including some employers who were there either helping connect people to jobs or giving out employment information. Stein also gave some brief remarks before he left.

The Rock the Block Party was part of the North Carolina Reentry week that runs until Saturday.The state reentry week was launched by the State Reentry Council that was started last year by Gov. Roy Cooper to raise awareness about the challenges individuals face as they rebuild their lives after incarceration.

Cooper assigned N.C. Department of Public Safety Secretary Erik A. Hooks with the task of developing a reentry action plan to comprehensively address reentry issues and improve the transition for people returning from jail or prison.

“North Carolina is better and safer when people who’ve paid their debt to society can find a path to success,” Cooper said. “Most people serving time in our prisons will eventually be released, and we want to help them return to their communities without returning to the ways that put them behind bars in the first place.”

Stein, who serves on the State Reentry Council, praised the NEW Reentry Council for its work helping people in Nash, Edgecombe and Wilson counties successfully transition back to society by providing support in areas such as housing, employment and transportation to people to help build productive lives, reduce the rate of recidivism and increase public safety.

Stein said one of the initiatives that he supports that’s becoming more widespread across the country with employers is “ban the box,” which means that applications for employment will no longer require job applicants to check a box if they have felony conviction. 

“You can look at some of these criminal records when you’re interviewing them before you hire them,” he said. “But do it on the back end rather than the front end. Let the person go through the process and see if they have the skills, aptitude and interest that you want as an employee. After that, then do a criminal record check, have a conversation about what happened that caused them to go to jail or prison and then you can be reassured that they aren’t going to be a risk to your business or customers.”

Sharon Goodson, executive director of the N.C. Community Action Association, said since the NEW Reentry Council started in 2013, it has enrolled 1,000 people and helped about 500 people get jobs in Nash, Edgecombe and Wilson counties.

“It’s about the return on investment, so they can become homeowners and tax-paying citizens,” Goodson said.

Goodson said she hopes more businesses in the area will partner with the NEW Reentry Council. Officials said the recidivism rate, which is the tendency of a convicted criminal to reoffend, is 49 percent in North Carolina within two years of post-release.

“There are currently more than 37,000 people that are incarcerated in North Carolina, and about 20,000 of those individuals each year are let out in the communities,” Goodson said. “If we believe in having safe communities for all people to thrive, we’ve got to provide support for people to survive and thrive.”

Rock the Block Party featured free food, information about reentry resources and support services, giveaways and youth activities.