CHARLOTTE, N.C. — There are 19 million people that have a felony conviction record, and more than 70 million people with a criminal history in the U.S., according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.
A criminal record can be a massive hurdle to tackle when a person searches for a job.In Charlotte, the Center for Community Transitions has been helping incarcerated individuals gain life skills to help them succeed after they are released from prison.
The Center for Women is a work release program within the CCT that helps 30 female inmates from around North Carolina. Ebony Thomas is a graduate of the Center for Women and now runs her own transportation company in Charlotte.
Thomas says she served a 10-year prison sentence for drug trafficking and conspiracy. Eight of those years were spent behind bars, the last two years were spent with CCT. She credits the program with keeping her out of jail.
“If I didn’t have that program, I would have went back to what I was usually doing, and that was selling drugs,” Thomas said.
She when she entered the program, she learned basic life skills and skills to succeed in a job interview.
“I didn’t know that there was certain things, suits and things you should wear for certain interviews,” she said. “They set you up with that. They let you know how to become a resume writer.”
The CCT and the Center for Women is designed to decrease North Carolina’s growing recidivism rate. According to the CCT, from 2018-2021, they had a 19% two-year agency wide recidivism rate, compared to 40% state average.
Delilah Montalvo, the program director, says the classes at the CCT put women ahead of other inmates who are released from prison without any help.
“If they’re let out in an environment like this where they’re thriving, they’re working, they’re providing for their families, they have stability,” Montalvo said.
Patrice Funderburg, the executive director for CCT, says on average, the center sees 35-55 women a year depending on when their sentences are completed. She says the program is application based. Inmates cannot have write-ups or infractions on their record during incarceration, but it is open to any inmate regardless of charges.
“If we limited our acceptance rate here at our facility to low-level, violent crimes, we lose an opportunity for rehabilitation for folks that have different levels of severe crime,” she said. “We also lose an opportunity to really look at the systemic issues sort of lead to the criminal thinking or the behavior that lead to the actual crime.”
Funderburg says from 2018 to 2020, the recidivism rate for the Center of Women residents was 0%.