WPD Trying to Keep Ex-Offenders Out of Trouble

Wilmington, NC – The Wilmington Police Department is hiring a counselor to work with people getting out of prison from gun and gang charges trying to prevent them from committing new crimes.

A federal Department of Justice grant is supporting the program for its first year. After that, the department's chief grant-writer says he hopes to find other sources of funding to keep the program going.

Grant Manager Malcolm Phelps says positions like this are becoming more common as law enforcement around the country start to put more energy into preventing crime, instead of just responding to it.

"It's part of kind of a comprehensive approach," Phelps says, "too many people get out and go right back in the revolving doors of the criminal justice system."

The one-year grant totals $42,159, and with each prisoner costing the state of North Carolina at least $20,000 annual, Phelps predicts the program will pay for itself. "You keep one person out, it's a win-win," he says.

To train its new counselor, the city is partnering with the established Wilmington mentoring group, Leading into New Communities (LINC), for the program.

LINC director Frankie Roberts says prisoners need help with everything from jobs and housing, to simple decision-making.

"Most facilities, based on the way they're designed, you only have to make 25 decisions a day. Persons like me and you, we have to make 300 decisions a day," Roberts says. "So one of the biggest things we have to work towards is life skills that's directed towards helping them prioritize decisions so that-making does not become overwhelming and so then they won't crash."

Roberts says state prisons release 80 to 90 inmates a month to New Hanover County, and it can take three to six months for convicts to readjust to life in free society.

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