Tag Archives: criminal justice reform

Iris Thomas’ Release Story

“I can’t even explain it in words!” Iris exclaims as she starts her release interview with me. “Everything I’ve been hustling for my whole adult life has come to be in the last 6 months”. It is August 8th, 2018, and Iris Thomas who will be 69 years young next week, is leaving prison by way of CCT’s Center for Women. She’s been in and out of prison since she was 23 years old; this last time since 2011. She says this time is different, this time she will not be going back. “I came in with a different mindset. I said to myself ‘I’m definitely not coming out the same way I go in’. I just purged myself of all of that.”

In 2011 as she awaited her sentencing hearing, Iris says she thought about running. Now in her 60s, she didn’t know if she could survive prison again. But she says her son encouraged her to go in, do her time, and come back out clean; so she showed up in court and went back behind bars.

Iris’ revolving door in and out of the prison system began with a charge she picked up while in a domestic violence situation. Addiction fueled her poor decisions from then on, and all told she served 5 different prison sentences over the years. This time, Iris was transferred to CCT’s Center for Women for the last part of her sentence, and she says that her time here, along with a different mindset, has made all the difference.

When she first arrived at CCT, Iris completed our LifeWorks! Program, a job readiness and life skills program we offer free of charge to anyone with a criminal record. “LifeWorks! Was very much needed and helped me get through it. I was very nervous to be job searching in my 60s but I did it”. Iris found a job as a housekeeper. “It required some humbling at first. I have a bachelor’s degree in sociology, but I needed to do it”. Iris quickly became extremely valued at work; so valued that when she announced she’d be moving away from the Charlotte area after her release, her work happily gave her a transfer to her new location, threw her a going away party, and named their kitchen after her.

Iris says that a big part of her success this time around was learning new coping skills. Not only did she learn from the staff at the Center for Women and LifeWorks!, but she also participated in CCT’s substance abuse and trauma program, Seeking Safety, funded by the ABC Board of Mecklenburg County. Iris says she’s experienced a lot of trauma, and being in Seeking Safety gave her a space to process it. “Seeking Safety helped me open up and talk about it, which let me… I like the word purge… let me purge and cleanse myself and get through it. I always stayed after group to talk to Cathy… I especially needed more coping skills for conflict management, and she really helped me with that too”.

Today as Iris is waiting for her family to come pick her up from our facility, she’s beaming with joy. She repeatedly gives glory and honor to God, quoting scripture, making it apparent she’s a woman of strong faith. “Yes,” she says, “By the grace of God I came to this program and I am going home.” She tells me she’s going home to a rental property, family, her own car, and with some modest savings along with her job. “What does the future hold for you?” I ask, and she tells me she wants to eventually start her own catering business. “Why are you choosing to share your story publicly?” I ask, curious, and she says simply, “I want people to look at me and see this program works.” She then goes on to tell me that she hopes to come back to visit CCT around the holidays and cook a meal for the women who are still incarcerated here. “If there’s one thing I want the ladies to know it’s don’t feel hopeless. I hope they keep an open mind. Keep your ears open, and be willing to submit and take people’s advice. It took me a long time to learn to do that!”


Newsletter – February 2018


CCT Executive Director Participates in City-Wide Panel on Mass Incarceration

On February 6th, CCT Executive Director, Myra Clark, participated in a panel at a city-wide event about mass incarceration. The event, “Rethinking Incarceration” was hosted by Warehouse 242 and featured a new book by the same name, authored by Dominique DuBois Gilliard. Mr. Gilliard was the keynote speaker and also served on the panel. The other panel members were Toussaint Romain, Ramona Brandt, and Councilman Braxton Winston. <Continue Reading>
The event was a wonderful start to a much needed ongoing conversation in Charlotte. Creative Loafing did a lengthy story that is worth a read if you would like to learn more:

Imagine being sentenced to four years in prison just for stealing clamps.

It’s a case that will stick with Toussaint Romain for years to come, and has only gone to further his belief that, as he told me during a recent chat, “There is no justice in the criminal justice system.”

<Read the full article here>

Charlotte Junior League HostsDonation Drive Benefiting CCT

On February 3rd, the Junior League of Charlotte hosted a wonderful donation drive benefiting our Families Doing Time children and families. The drive brought in a ton of hats, gloves, scarves, and snugly stuffed animals to keep children with incarcerated parents warm during this unusually cold winter. As you know, most of the children and families we serve are living in or near poverty income levels. Most need assistance with obtaining items for basic needs, like warm winter clothing. We are so grateful to the Junior League for their tremendous effort in putting on this successful event!

CCT Client Profiled in Charlotte Five

Online news and culture publication, Charlotte Five, did a profile of LifeWorks! client, Tyrone Miller. In the piece, Tyrone shares his outlook on life after prison and his journey to try to find employment. <Read On>

Photo by Katie Toussaint

CCT Honored by Playing for Others

CCT is one of ten nonprofits being honored by the Playing for Others (PFO) class of ’17-18 this year. PFO is an organization in Charlotte that provides a space for teens to explore and answer the questions, “Who Am I?” and “How will I give of that?” through programming in Personal Development, Service, and the Arts. Each year they choose ten local nonprofits for their teen artists to honor through spoken-word, video, music, dance, and more. On March 2nd, PFO will hold a huge culminating event called HeARTBeat at McGlohan Theater. <Keep Reading>

Join us for a one-of-a-kind event honoring 10 local nonprofits through music, dance and digital art. Playing for Others teens create and perform original works of art in honor of these incredible organizations and their service to the Charlotte community. Tickets Available Here.

At CCT we rely on generous donors like you to provide the resources we need. Thank you to everyone who donated in the month of January.

Opportunities to Give

Support CCT While
You Shop!

If you’re an Amazon Prime member you can easily set up your account to donate a portion of your purchases to CCT. AmazonSmile is a website operated by Amazon that lets customers enjoy the same wide selection of products, low prices, and convenient shopping features as on Amazon.com. The difference is thatwhen you shop on AmazonSmile, the AmazonSmile Foundation will donate 0.5% of the price of eligible purchases to CCT. Start supporting CCT today!

Volunteer Opportunities

For a full list of volunteer opportunities visit our Volunteer Page.


If interested contact Erik Ortega at eortega@centerforcommunitytransitions.org

Mock Interviews: Every Other Monday@ 10:45 AM & Thursday 10:45 AM (Schedule may vary with holidays) – Assist staff with conducting mock job interviews with clients participating in our employment readiness classes. Questions and evaluation tool will be provided and individual feedback from the experience is welcomed.


February 17 – JustLeadership USA’s Emerging Leaders Training

By Application Only
JustLeadershipUSA is dedicated to cutting the US correctional population in half by 2030. JLUSA empowers people most affected by incarceration to drive policy reform. On Saturday, February 17, JLUSA brings its Emerging Leaders program right here to Charlotte! <Learn More>

March 2 – HeARTbeat – Honoring Nonprofits through the Arts

8pm-10pm, McGlohan Theater
This year CCT is SO EXCITED to be one of 10 nonprofit honorees at the annual Playing for Others HeARTbeat event! Join us for a one-of-a-kind event honoring 10 local nonprofits through music, dance and digital art. <Learn More>

March 8 – Applause for a Cause

6pm – 8pm, Sugar Creek Charter School
Sugar Creek Charter School will be hosting a student led open-mic night with all proceeds coming to the Families Doing Time program. The event will surround children of incarcerated parents and will highlight Families Doing Time’s work within the community. Ticket info to come.

March 14 – Professionals Who Happen to Have a Criminal Record – New Group Interest Meeting

Are you a Charlotte area professional who happens to have a criminal record? Are you interested in giving back to the community by helping others who have a record? CCT is holding an interest meeting on March 14th to discuss possibilities for forming a new group just for you. <Learn More>

March 22 – Build People, Not Prisons

5pm – 7pm, Advent Coworking

CCT is hosting its first ever Build People, Not Prisons evening event. The event will feature a live performance by Playing for Others teens, Hors d’oeuvres, and beer and wine. More details and tickets available here.

May 10 – Spring Fling

SAVE THE DATE for CCT’s 6th Annual Spring Fling. Details to come.

NC Seeking to Raise the Age of Juvenile Jurisdiction

North Carolina is the only state that tries 16 and 17 year old children as adults for misdemeanors and nonviolent crimes. New York recently passed legislation to phase out charging minors as adults for nonviolent crimes, leaving our state to stand alone and not in a good way.

Current legislation in the NC General Assembly seeks to raise the age of juvenile jurisdiction, also known as the age of criminal responsibility, to 18, bringing North Carolina in sync with every other state in the country. Although raising the age has faced some opposition from lawmakers who wish to appear tough on crime, research shows that charging children within the adult system has been ineffective. The juvenile system focuses more on rehabilitation and has a more beneficial effect on preventing future crime. In recent years, the tide of public opinion has turned against trying children as adults, and the fact that NC now stands alone in doing so, is a testament to that change. The Center for Community Transitions is in favor of the North Carolina State House’s bill to raise the age because the current system is ineffective, harms our state’s children, and hurts our economy.

Charging minors as adults for nonviolent crimes needs to stop. Nearly 28,000 16 and 17-year-olds are arrested and face the prosecution as adults in criminal court each year. However, 72% of these crimes are misdemeanors, or less serious crimes. Children who face prison time in adult facilities are more likely to face violence and come out with a greater risk of committing another offense and returning to jail. Further, these individuals face barriers to employment, housing, and other basic needs. This in turn puts added strain on our economy and social services. Additionally, the trying, convicting, and sentencing of youth as adults disproportionately effects minorities and the working class. This is a problem. We as a society need to ask ourselves why we continue to use a system that is ineffective.

Subjecting children to the adult justice system is harmful. Children housed in adult prisons are more likely to be rearrested when they are released when compared to the inmate population at large. They also face higher risks of sexual assault and suicide. Why are we continuing to expose children with non violent offenses to this environment before they have even crossed the stage and received their high school diploma? Tough on crime policies are those that focus on zero tolerance to provide law and order. They emphasize the need to punish offenders rather than ensure they do not commit another crime. Some politicians and law enforcement leaders especially have held this view as to not appear weak or soft on crime. However, in Kamala Harris’ book “Smart on Crime” she explains that old tactics in crime prevention just aren’t working. Rehabilitative methods, however, are effective in terms of ensuring the person does not re-offend. Rehabilitation is especially effective with teenagers whose brains are not finished developing. In fact, our minds do not finish developing until our mid to late twenties. With teenagers being a work in progress mentally and emotionally, rehabilitative methods such as counseling and community service are more effective.

Limited economic prospects for youth hurts our entire state’s economy. It is a simple equation. If taxpayers are paying to hold people in prison who could be working, the state is losing money. To look exactly at how raising the age will save the state money, we will take a look at past examples. According to William Lassiter, North Carolina’s head of juvenile justice, past reforms to the juvenile-justice system have led to short-term cost increases but long-term savings have ultimately resulted. In the late 1990s, the system of youth justice was reformed placing a greater emphasis on mental health. Lassiter said the reforms were largely responsible for decreasing juvenile crimes; significantly and while the programs were more expensive in the short term, they provided long term savings. Lassiter reports that, “In 2008 our budget was $178 million. Last year it was $132 million. So already we have saved the taxpayers a significant amount of money.” If somehow, the good for our children can’t motivate us to reform the system, maybe it will motivate us when the pockets of taxpayers feel the effects of a broken system.

Another disturbing aspect of trying juveniles as adults, is is has been repeatedly shown that minorities and low income whites are more likely to be tried as adults, convicted, and sentenced than higher income whites. Minority youth, particularly African Americans, typically face harsher sentencing for the same crime. According to Human Rights Watch, “more than 2,500 people in the United States have been convicted of a crime committed before they were 18 years old and sentenced to life without parole. Nationwide, African Americans make up only 11.1 percent of the population yet are 60 percent of the prisoner population serving life without the opportunity for parole for nonviolent offenses. This is especially a problem as incarcerating minorities at a high rate for non violent offenses promotes a generational cycle of poverty. We have to fight this and support a level playing field for all our state’s children.

Currently the bill to raise the age has passed in the state house and is heading to the senate. If it passes there, the law will go into effect in 2020. If every other state has figured it out, we can and will here in North Carolina. But don’t just wait for the vote. Call your state senators and tell them you support House Bill 280. We need to raise the age so all of our children are safe and are free to pursue opportunities for success.

NC Aims to Reduce Use of Solitary Confinement

NC has reduced its use of solitary confinement by more than 50% since 2012 but still has a long way to go according to a recently released Vera Institute report. Currently, incarcerated individuals may find themselves in solitary confinement (also known as segregation units) for minor infractions such as swearing. At some state facilities the average time spent in solitary is nearly five years. The Vera Institute also found racial disparities in the use of solitary. The state faces major staff shortages making it difficult to provide alternatives to segregation. The report also pointed out that many people are being released from years in solitary confinement directly back into the community, making their transition all the more difficult. The institute recommends moving people out of solitary Confinement and into reentry units. CCT is glad the state leadership is committed to continuing to take steps to reduce the use of solitary confinment and to put more resources toward reentry housing units. To learn more, read the article in the Charlotte Observer.