Jail inmates in Mecklenburg County have an opportunity to pay their debts to society literally as well as figuratively. In 1997, the Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office opened a 160-bed Work Release and Restitution Center (WRRC) on Elizabeth Avenue. In addition to a paycheck, inmates who qualify for the program, receive job search and job retention training, behavioral and substance abuse counseling life skills assistance and the opportunity to build an effective support network before their release. Inmates who are already employed may be able to continue in their existing jobs if appropriate.
Residents contribute 20 percent of their gross income to Mecklenburg County to help cover the cost of their room and board. They are required to pay for any outside counseling and payments ordered by the court such as child support, attorney’s fees or victim restitution. Additionally, 10 percent of their gross income is placed in a savings account which is kept for the Resident until their release.
Candidates are screened carefully before being admitted into the program, ideally, before they are sentenced. If accepted, they participate in a pre-employment seminar that covers effective job search strategies, completing applications, resume writing, effective interviewing and how to handle inquiries about their criminal history. Residents are required to attend classes on issues such as accepting criticism and problem solving, conflict resolution, time management, good work habits, stress management, parenting and job retention, according to their individual needs. GED classes and college courses are also available through community resources.
With guidance from WRRC staff, each resident must also complete an individualized behavioral treatment plan. Residents with current or previous problems with substance abuse are required to participate in alcohol/drug education classes and Narcotics Anonymous or Alcoholic Anonymous meetings. Residents must submit up to four drug tests (urinalysis) a week and a minimum of three daily alcohol tests while at the WRRC. Any positive test results in immediate suspension from the program, and immediate return to secure confinement to Jail-Central.
“Employers have always been very open to the program, but interest has grown as the job market has gotten tighter,” says Sheriff Chipp Bailey. “One of the reasons employers are willing to work with us is that they know these employees will be drug and alcohol-free when they show up for work. Employers also view residents as dependable because they are required to work while in the program. For these reasons, employers are willing to employ WRRC residents. Employers are carefully interviewed before program residents are allowed to work for them. “Follow-up is a large part of what we do here. It’s part of what makes us different from other programs and has a lot to do with our success.”
While national recidivism rates for corrections facilities average about 70 percent, the re-arrest rate for inmates who complete the Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office WRRC program is approximately 36 percent. Residents of the program are held accountable for their actions, connected with community resources to aid their recovery and reentry to the community and provided support and advocacy from staff. We believe these are crucial elements to achieving a recidivism rate approximately 35% less than the national average and increasing community safety for the citizens of Mecklenburg County.
The Work Release and Restitution Center is supervised by Captain John Moore, Jr.