Last year, we told you about the Durham Innovation Team, a small team inside City Hall working to understand the economic barriers facing people with criminal records in Durham. On Thursday, that team presented to the City Council what it has learned and the ideas it has generated in that process.

The full report is 117 pages, full of data and quotes from justice-involved residents, service providers and law enforcement interviewed by the team. It’s worth a read, but we thought we’d pull out some highlights for you. You can also check out the team’s abbreviated presentation to the council.

First, some context on Durham’s justice-involved population. You may already know that about seven hundred people return to Durham from prison each year. According to the I-Team, in 2016, 746 Durham residents were released from prison, 2,964 were under community supervision and 7,072 spent time in the Durham jail. But given that an estimated one in five North Carolinians have a criminal record, it’s possible that as many as 59,000 Durhamites may be justice-involved. In addition to navigating the transition back to society outside of jail or prison, they may be barred from certain jobs or housing because of their records or burdened by criminal justice debt.

Some findings from the report:

  • Over one thousand residents re-entered the Durham jail ten times or more since 2011. If Durham had “eliminated” recidivism in 2011, the jail population today would be 60 percent smaller.
  • 383 expungement petitions were filed in Durham last year, while more than 87,000 charges from the past five years might be eligible.
  • The average length of stay at the Durham jail is nine days. At a cost of $125 per day, that’s more than $1,100 per stay.
  • From 2011-17, misdemeanor probation violation was the most common charge among people in the Durham jail. Seventy-nine percent of people with that charge were black.
  • One resource guide available to people returning from prison included seven employment services that were no longer in existence, out of fifteen listed.
  • More than twenty-two thousand Durham residents have had their license suspended because they didn’t show up to court for a traffic offense or didn’t pay a traffic ticket. Eighty-two percent of those charged with failing to pay a traffic fine are people of color. (More than two thousand such charges were dismissed during a recent amnesty program by the I-Team and the District Attorney’s Office).

The I-Team also presented to council recommendations for initiatives to help justice-involved residents.

  • Care packages for returning residents that could come with a letter from the mayor, a free bus pass, a list of reentry resources, a phone, monetary help like a month of free probation and gift cards, and twenty hours of peer support services with someone who has been through the reentry process.
  • A program to bring reentry resources into communities by co-locating them with other services, or with the mobile City Hall on the Go vehicle.
  • A pilot transitional job program in which justice-involved residents would be connected to jobs where they would work four days each week and receive ongoing job readiness training on the fifth day,
  • A transitional housing program that would house people in Accessory Dwelling Units, for example on church property or in residents’ yards, or in tiny homes. The homes would be built by the residents themselves and justice-involved individuals in the construction trade.
  • An expunction and driver’s license restoration clinic in the Durham courthouse that would help people get their licenses restored and their records wiped. This initiative would also look at how to improve court date notifications and alternatives to licenses for undocumented residents.

Helping justice-involved residents is the mission for the team’s first year of support under a three-year Bloomberg Philanthropies grant. The mission for its next year is TBD.