On supervised probation, homeless, jobless, with no car, no driver’s license, a handful of convictions behind him and facing a laundry list of court mandated requirements, Mark Smith showed up for meetings with Community Corrections Officer Sheila Myers determined to get his kids out of foster care.
“I just want to find a place, get my kids back and support them the way they are supposed to,” Smith said.
So far, the 26-year-old Dobson resident has made good.
Myers, who’s been in the probation business for nearly 15 years, was impressed with Smith’s follow through despite the tall odds.
“He had a lot of issues,” she said. “But from the first day he was very cooperative and willing to do whatever it takes.”
He got a job, sleeping on the streets nearby so he could make it to work.
He ended a destructive relationship with the mother of his children and avoids old friends that he knows will get him into trouble.
He attended meetings across the county. Anger management in Dobson. Recovery services for depression and anxiety in Pilot Mountain. AA and Al-Anon. Meetings with Myers.
He got a better job and moved in with his sister.
“That’s a person going above and beyond what I normally see in this job,” Myers said.
In July, Smith received a Successful Story Award for his hard work. He’ll be recognized along with other winners in the Surry County Superior Courtroom on Monday.
The awards are a new statewide incentive program.
Each month, each officer nominates an offender who’s gone the extra mile, “or someone they’ve seen a significant change of behavior in,” Myers said.
Committees choose a winner, who gets his or her picture posted on bulletin boards in each office in the division as well as recognition in the courtroom ceremony.
The ceremony, held during an administrative session of Superior Court that deals primarily with probation violations, is intended to serve as encouragement for those offenders as well.
The program reflects an ongoing shift within the probation system towards rehabilitation, which now implements Evidence Based Practices (EDP).
“EDP is just a whole totally different approach to supervision,” said Tracie Fulcher, a chief probation officer in the division covering Surry County. “You talk to them, you show concern for them. You let them know that you’re there to help them, not just send them back to jail, which was kind of the stigma before.”
The Successful Story Awards are a way of providing positive reinforcement.
“It takes four positives to do undo one negative,” said Sunday Joyce, a community corrections officer from Mount Airy. “Some of these people have never had any kind of positive reinforcement.”
The thing about EDP: it works.
A 2014 report published by the Council of State Governments Justice Center analyzed data from 15 states which implemented rehabilitative practices like EPD using funding established from the 2008 Second Chance Act.
These states, which included North Carolina, all experienced declines in recidivism as well as incarceration and crime rates.
North Carolina’s three-year recidivism rate dropped 19.3 percent comparing releases in 2006 and 2010.
Also recognized at the July ceremony will be the 2015 graduates of another EDP based program, Cognitive Behavioral Intervention (CBI).
Offenders referred to CBI meet regularly with a group and counselor to work through a 12-step program that helps participants better understand the motivations behind and consequences of their actions.
Katherine “Hope” Bowman graduated in July.
“It’s a lot of thinking,” Bowman said about CBI. “I had to be really honest with myself.”
The 26-year old Mount Airy resident said graduating felt good.
“I felt like I had accomplished something.” And she’s looking forward to the court ceremony.
Smith, feeling the pressure of an Aug. 14 deadline to find a three- or four-bedroom apartment suitable for his kids, feels good about his award.
“I don’t really like courtrooms,” he admitted. “But at least this time I’m not going to be judged for something.”