Gov. Roy Cooper signs Executive Order to help people who served time reacclimate to society

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Monday, January 29, 2024
Gov. Cooper makes push to improve NC reentry services
Gov. Roy Cooper signed an executive order Monday designed to improve reentry services in North Carolina.

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- Gov. Roy Cooper signed an executive order Monday designed to improve reentry services in North Carolina.

Reentry services are programs in place to help people previously incarcerated adjust and return to their communities and live fulfilling, productive lives.

"It's a great day to take historic steps to make our state stronger and safer and to make the lives of thousands of North Carolinians better," Cooper said.

He described the executive order as "bold and necessary," pointing out that it had many directives that will help formerly incarcerated people get their lives back on track.

Brian Scott is one of the people measures like this could have helped in the past. He spent two decades behind bars and faced enormous challenges once he got out.

"I felt like I was 15 years old again, and it was it was really overwhelming to me emotionally," he said.

Scott struggled to get a driver's license. Instead, he had to get a learner's permit, which came with a 6 p.m. cut-off time.

He ran into even more restrictions on what kind of job he could get as a convicted felon. Scott ended up writing a letter to the Department of Transportation and Cooper's office.

"How am I going to rebuild my life without the most basic necessity," Scott said. "I couldn't even open a bank account without my driver's license."

Executive Order No. 303 is designed to make it easier for people in Scott's previous situation to reenter society. It also will make North Carolina the third state to join Reentry 2030. That's a national program working to set up every single person released from prison to succeed in reintegrating into society.

Cooper said the order will also improve the state's ability to build a diverse, well-trained workforce.

"Two years in a row now, we've been recognized as the best state for business and the jobs keep coming. So this is not only the right thing to do. This is a smart thing to do. Our state's correctional facilities are a hidden source of talent," Cooper said.

Some specific goals of the executive order are to increase the number of high school and post secondary degrees by incarcerated individuals by 75 percent, enroll more eligible people in Medicaid before their release from prison and raise apprenticeships by 50 percent.

According to the North Carolina Department of Adult Correction, more than 15,000 people return to their communities after being released from state prisons each year.

"My hope is that the results from today's executive action will be more collaboration and grassroots organizations that are working to reduce the recidivism rate and state entities," activist Kerwin Pittman said. "It's going to take a statewide approach to reduce the recidivism rate. So, having all hands on deck is definitely needed and it's going to be monumental in making sure the individuals coming home are successful."

Pittman is the executive director at Recidivism Reduction Educational Program Services. He said the hurdles people face include getting a driver's license, finding adequate housing and getting a job.

Cooper has been a longtime proponent of these reentry services. He has signed declarations recognizing April as Second Chance Month, participated in meetings with the State Reentry Council Collaborative and created action plans to help improve the state's support of these services.

Cooper is serving in his final year as North Carolina Governor, as he has now served the legal maximum of two terms.

Last week, Cooper set out a new strategy to support public education -- another issue he has a long history of supporting. He said this year he planned to build a coalition to prod the General Assembly to improve public schools toward his policy preferences.

The governor made the announcement at a school in Nash County.