Category: Criminal Justice

Collateral Consequences of the Criminal Justice System – Durham

The Challenge 

More than 1.6 million people in North Carolina have a criminal record. A misdemeanor or felony conviction of a crime may have far-reaching consequences, both criminal and civil. When a person is convicted of a crime, the sentence imposed by the judge contains the criminal consequences, which may include imprisonment, probation, fines, and other punishments. Additional consequences, often called civil or collateral consequences, also occur because of a conviction, but they are separate from the criminal sentence—they may arise automatically from the conviction and not be specifically imposed or even mentioned at sentencing in the criminal case. Collateral consequences may be imposed by state or federal law (de jure consequences) and may include ineligibility for a professional license, loss of the right to possess a firearm, inability to vote, and other disabilities and disqualifications. Disenfranchisement, or losing the right to vote, is a serious consequence that affects the ability of offenders to become involved citizens. Learn more: Relief from a Criminal Conviction.

Discretionary consequences also include those that influence the job prospects of someone with a conviction. For example, an employer may decide not to hire a person because of a criminal conviction. As many as 60 percent of North Carolinians with a criminal record remain unemployed within one year of being released. Those fortunate enough to secure employment earn an average of 40 percent less income than their co-workers without a criminal record, even when performing the same duties (Advancing Employment Equity in Rural NC report). Landlords, colleges, and other entities may react similarly, limiting the housing and education choices for which past offenders can apply.


The Solution

Limiting housing, employment, education, and civic involvement creates challenges for individuals with criminal records. These consequences are particularly damaging for those who are eligible for expunctions. An expunction is a legal process that removes the criminal conviction or charge from a person’s record, either immediately or after certain conditions are met. Being granted an expunction from a judge can help restore a petitioner’s life to its state pre-conviction, but historically, parties typically learn that they are eligible after the negative impact of a charge on their record has affected their opportunities. However, in many cases, individuals may be eligible for “real time” expunctions that could prevent these negative consequences.

Durham Expunction and Restoration Program (DEAR) provides legal support so that individuals potentially eligible can access “real time” expunctions and avoid collateral consequences. DEAR also helps individuals with traffic citations and unpaid fines get their driver’s licenses restored, which helps them maintain employment by ensuring adequate transportation. The DEAR driver’s license restoration program started in 2017 and the expunction program began in 2018. DEAR works with petitioners by giving them access to legal clinics at the NC Pro Bono Resource Center, as well as the NC Central University and Duke University schools of law. This legal assistance helps petitioners identify whether they are eligible for expunction or restoration and guides them through the process, reducing the number of people who experience negative consequences for low-level, dismissed, or wrongful convictions.

Source: Durham Expunction & Restoration Program

 The Players

DEAR is a collaboration between the Durham district attorney’s office, the City of Durham, DEAR Durham, the NC Pro Bono Resource Center, the NC Central University School of Law (NCCU), and the Duke University School of Law. DEAR Durham is the core of the collaboration, working with the Durham court system to redirect those who are eligible for expunction and license restoration and provide them with legal and financial support. DEAR Durham works with the Pro Bono Resource Center, NCCU, and Duke to connect eligible participants with legal representation that provides assistance for appeals to remit fines and fees, restore driver licenses, and expunge criminal records.

Source: UNC-TV DEAR driver’s license restoration participants outside the county courthouse.

The Promise

As of early 2019, the DEAR program worked to remit over $1.5 million dollars in traffic-related fines and fees, and restored the licenses of over 6,000 North Carolina drivers who could not afford to pay the costs of past citations (some decades old). Doing so enabled these drivers to travel more safely and legally, reducing the risk of uninsured drivers or those with suspended licenses having accidents, further citations, or even arrests for driving with a suspended license. Many communities do not have a strong public transportation system, which makes it necessary for residents to drive in order to get to work, transport their children to school, or purchase food at the grocery store. Those with citations less than two years old or with high-risk offenses, like driving while intoxicated, are not eligible for the restoration program.

DEAR Durham expunction participants have their petitions heard much faster by the courts because they provide legal assistance for those who cannot otherwise afford it. Expunging past charges removes criminal records from background checks for employment and housing applications. Sharrocka Pettiford, a participant in both the restoration and expunction programs, says the DEAR program led to two new jobs, more safety and security when she drives her children to school events, and relief from the pressure of past dismissed charges. Providing these services in the community enables more Durham residents to be safely housed, gainfully employed, and able to take advantage of area opportunities.

Team Spotlight: 8th Judicial District Opioid Crisis Team

Co-Author: Mary Parry


After a 2011 decision by the state of North Carolina to remove funding for drug court programs, communities and courts like North Carolina’s 8th Judicial District began collaborating to find another way. Advocates like Chief District Judge Elizabeth Heath were determined to keep drug courts open to help low-level offenders addicted to drugs receive treatment and avoid prison while on probation. “We began seeing an increase in use of opioids, heroin and meth around that time,” said Heath. “The commissioners and health departments from our three-county district immediately began looking at ways to collaborate and deal with the growing crisis.”

By 2017, the 8th District, comprised of Greene, Lenoir and Wayne counties, had formed an Opioid Task Force. The group was interested in working together on projects related to harm reduction and medication-assisted treatment. Judge Heath was invited to join the task force because of her experience and commitment in the drug courts. Funding was top of mind and the team lacked an experienced grant writer. “We were shooting in the dark,” said Heath. “It was in the process of trying to search for and find funding opportunities that we were connected with the Opioid Response Project at the UNC School of Government.”


Because of connections made through the Opioid Response Project, the 8th District Opioid Crisis Team found the support they need to collect data and apply for significant funding. The team has written and submitted two significant three-year grants that would go a long way in advancing their work. They hope to add an administration position to the task force, along with a peer support specialist who can help deliver the services and support needed in the community. “It’s so much more difficult for rural communities to seek funding,” said Heath. “We have fewer resources to pull from, including help with the nuances of grant writing. Being involved with the Opioid Response Project helped us find a grant writer – someone to stick with us and navigate the process until the application was submitted.”

Other ongoing needs in the counties involve transitional housing for women, transportation support, and training that came to a stop in 2011 along with the drug court funding. “We are hopeful that grant funding will help us address these growing needs,” said Heath. “These issues overlap with the interests of our entire community, whether you’re in drug court or you’re not.”


The 8th District’s community collaboration has been impressive, according to project manager Brandy Harrell, Behavioral Health Director of the Kinston Community Health Center. “The support we have had from our county commissioners, from the Department of Social Services, and the rehab community has really helped to increase understanding and awareness about the opioid epidemic,” said Harrell. “Being involved with the Opioid Response Project has strengthened our collaboration in a way that will benefit our community even after the project ends.”

To learn more about the Opioid Response Project coordinated by the ncIMPACT Initiative, please visit:

Mental Health & Incarceration – Stepping Up Initiative

Co Author: Hallee Haygood


The Challenge

In any given year, North Carolina detains more than 11,000 people with serious mental illness in jails.

Individuals may be incarcerated for minor offenses that often stem from mental health issues. In these situations, some local officials indicate there would be better outcomes if these individuals were served by the healthcare system instead of the criminal justice system.

When individuals with serious mental illness (SMI) are incarcerated, they tend to stay longer in jails and have higher rates of recidivism than those without a diagnosis. Counties in North Carolina estimate spending two or three times more on providing necessary care and intervention for those with serious mental illness in jails, and many seek alternatives to incarceration for those with mental illness involved in the justice system.


The Solution

The NC Association of County Commissioners assisted 46 counties in the state with adopting resolutions to address mental health within the criminal justice system. According to Victoria Dounoucos, who provided a report on the Stepping Up Initiative for the NC Association of County Commissioners:

“The Stepping Up Initiative is a national movement led by the National Association of Counties (NACo), the Council of State Governments, and the American Psychiatric Foundation with the goal of reducing the number of people with mental illnesses in jails. Nationwide, nearly 40 percent of people with a serious mental illness end up in jail at some point in their lives…Jails cannot provide the recovery and treatment services that individuals with mental illnesses need and being jailed makes recovery more difficult and increases recidivism for this population. The Stepping Up Initiative wants to improve the criminal justice system for individuals with mental illnesses by (1) reducing the number of people with mental illnesses in jails; (2) reducing the lengths of stay for these individuals; (3) increasing connections to community treatment resources upon release from jail; and (4) reducing recidivism rates.”

The Stepping Up Initiative engages a diverse group of organizations with expertise on these issues, including those representing sheriffs, jail administrators, judges, community corrections professionals, treatment providers, people with mental illnesses and their families, mental health and substance use program directors, and other stakeholders.

According to the National Association of Rural Mental Health, rural counties often face more challenges meeting the needs of these target populations due to a lack of resources and large geographic regions to cover. The Five County Stepping Up Initiative works together to overcome these challenges, including inadequate resources, such as mental health providers and treatment services, disparity of resources and interests in each county, and difficulty accessing data to guide their decision making and measure progress.


The Players

Granville Vance Public Health coordinates the first multi-county effort in North Carolina. Five counties – Vance, Franklin, Halifax, Granville, and Warren – formed the Five-County Stepping Up Initiative. The five counties focus on increasing staff and available resources, improving data collection and efficiency, and coordinating regional efforts while still tailoring to local needs.

The counties signed an interlocal agreement to implement the Stepping Up Initiative as a regional network. Each county invested $15,000 to $20,000 in the effort (total to $85,000). Half of the fund pays for staff to facilitate the initiative, and the other half is allocated based on decisions of a committee formed to lead the Stepping Up efforts. This committee consists of representatives from each county (managers and commissioners), a representative from Cardinal Innovations, the Granville-Vance District Health Director, law enforcement, mental health providers, and others. Commissioner Dan Brummitt of Vance County serves as the chair of this committee. Meetings take place on the second Monday of each month, though smaller meetings between various stakeholders may also occur during the off-weeks.


The Promise

Granville County used a grant from Cardinal Innovations to launch a telemedicine mental health clinic at the Granville County Detention Center to better address mental health and substance abuse disorders among the local jailed population. Experts recommend implementing mental health screening and assessment in jails. Prior to being booked into jail, some people who have SMI may never have been diagnosed and may be unaware of their mental illness, while others may have been diagnosed with a mental illness and received, but discontinued, treatment. Having this information will make counties better able to determine the treatment resources required to address this population’s behavioral health needs.

Reducing the Number of People with Mental Illnesses in Jail: Six Questions County Leaders Need to Ask to guide them in creating collaborative partnerships in their jurisdictions, systematically identifying people who have mental illnesses in their jails, and using data to inform systems-level changes and strategic plans to track progress over time.

  1. Is our leadership committed?
  2. Do we conduct timely screening and assessments?
  3. Do we have baseline data?
  4. Have we conducted a comprehensive process analysis and inventory of services?
  5. Have we prioritized policy, practice, and funding improvements?
  6. Do we track progress?

Measures of success may include:

  • reducing the number of people with mental illnesses booked into jail,
  • reducing the length of time people with mental illnesses remain in jail,
  • increasing connections to treatment, and
  • reducing recidivism.





Human Trafficking in the Triad

*Trigger Warning: Sex Trafficking*

The Challenge

In North Carolina human trafficking has been a prevalent issue for many years now. Despite this, it has only recently come to the forefront of community concern. Many people working to combat this issue note that they did not even hear it discussed in the state until around eight years ago. Although it was something people knew existed, it was not apparent as an expansive problem in North Carolina. However, as time has gone on it has become clear that due to the state’s high level of tourism and the extent of the highway system, human trafficking needs to be addressed.

Did you know… N.C. is among the top 10 states in the number of trafficking reports? In the past 10 years, the NHTH has identified almost 2,700 victims of human trafficking in the state.

The Solution

Addressing human trafficking in North Carolina is of the utmost importance. The best way to tackle an issue of this size is by bringing in a unique team to find solutions to the problem. In the Piedmont Triad, a variety of organizations have been brought together, all relying on their areas of expertise to create a network of collaboration. Nonprofit organizations from all over the state are working to find solutions to human trafficking.

For example, one organization works to educate truck drivers about the signs of human trafficking. Often the truck driving population interacts with women who are experiencing sex trafficking, but do not know the signs to look for, so they do feel concerned. While the World Relief Foundation connects survivors of human trafficking with resources that they may need going forward, for the Triad, and many other areas, the current solution is bringing organizations together. As more and more folks join the ranks, the greater the likelihood of ending human trafficking becomes.



 The Learning

Although human trafficking has not been eradicated in North Carolina, agencies can learn from what the Triad community has done. The key is to bring multiple organizations together to find solutions. These organizations have worked to educate folks about the issue, as well as teach others how to look for signs of human trafficking.

Further, one of the biggest takeaways for communities is that there is still a lack of knowledge on the topic. Human trafficking looks different everywhere, but one missing piece of the puzzle is existing data. Specialists on the issue all agree that more studies need to be conducted so that there is enough qualitative and quantitative information about the issue. If your organization is looking to address human trafficking, this will be one of the most important tools they can utilize.



Opioid Epidemic Ignores Boundaries in North Carolina

At its recent NC Rural Assembly titled “Claiming Our Future,” the NC Rural Center offered an important discussion on the opioid epidemic in North Carolina. Introduced by Dr. Anu Rao-Patel from Blue Cross Blue Shield of NC, the session began with sobering statistics — including the fact that drug overdoses are now the leading cause of accidental death in NC (ahead of vehicular crashes). According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates, the cost of unintentional opioid related overdose deaths in NC totaled $1.3 billion in 2015.

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What You Told Us in the ncIMPACT Planning Survey

We launched ncIMPACT in 2017 to help public officials in North Carolina navigate critical policy challenges across a wide range of topics, including health, education, economic development, criminal justice, public finance, and the environment. As we planned this new initiative, we wanted to hear from practitioners and other citizens about the most vexing policy issues in their community and in the state as a whole, and what we could do to help. As such, in January 2017 we drafted an online survey and distributed it with the assistance of various peer associations and a targeted Twitter campaign. Over the course of two months, we received 154 responses to our survey. Please read on for an analysis of our results.

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