Guaranteed basic income program could help the formerly incarcerated in Durham

Durham County News

DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) — The pandemic has been a dark time for people trying to find work and one population that often faces extra challenges are those who have been incarcerated.

But help could be on the way for these individuals as the city of Durham is considering giving monthly payments to some who have been to prison.

Durham recently made the shortlist to receive a $500,000 grant from Twitter that would go toward creating a Guaranteed Basic Income Pilot Program.

Durham City Councilman Mark Anthony Middleton and Councilman Pierce Freelon have been working on the proposal for the program over the last few weeks.

Middleton said their program would be centered on helping 55 – 100 formerly incarcerated individuals and they would receive $500 – $1,000 a month.

“Oftentimes the dual challenges of housing and employment effect that population and there are concerns about recidivism,” Middleton said.

Middleton said the individuals for this program would be randomly selected and the pilot program would last for 12 months.

“This is good policy and everyone wins when we stabilize our homes and stabilize families,” Middleton said. “Guaranteed income is one way to do it.”

Carise Ricks has been staying at the Durham Rescue Mission for about seven months.

He was released from prison last year and he had just enough money to find a place to live at the time.

But he said he was unable to find a job because of his background.

“Where I was, life was looking dark,” Ricks said. “I ended up not being able to pay my bills, so I had to leave where I was living.”

Ricks had nowhere to go but the street and he said he was homeless for weeks.

“I felt lost, ‘what am I gonna do next?'” Ricks said. “It’s like I should’ve stayed where I was (in prison).”

Ricks said the Guaranteed Basic Income program may not help him find a job, but he said the extra money could help him afford his own place to live, which he said is a step forward.

Phillip Jackson is the director of Omega Industries Staffing in Durham, which is a spin-off of the non-profit New Beginnings Outreach that trains and equips people for the workforce.

Jackson said he’s helped a lot of people battling issues with poverty find work, and he thinks the Guaranteed Basic Income Program could benefit formerly incarcerated individuals in Durham who are still trying to get back on their feet.

“When they come home, many times their living arrangements aren’t the best,” Jackson said. “Anything that will help them stabilize when coming out is huge.”

But Jackson said there needs to be more programs in Durham that can better train these individuals for the workforce, as many of them are struggling to find jobs.

“I do think we need to look long term at how do we get our arms around the re-entry and how to put a comprehensive plan together so they don’t go back into the system?” Jackson said.

While it is not a done deal, city leaders said they are fairly confident they will get $500,000 from Twitter for the pilot program.

Middleton said they could start the program as early as late March.

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