General Assembly is battleground for speakers advocating for second chances

RALEIGH, N.C. — A large crowd headed to the General Assembly Tuesday morning to advocate for second chances of individuals with criminal convictions.

“We’re here to address some of those collateral consequences, to ask our legislators to believe in our ability to change, to hold space for our ability to transform our lives and to provide ourselves a chance at good footing to have a second chance in our lives,” Kristie Puckett Williams with the North Carolina Second Chance Alliance said.

Puckett Williams was among several speakers who gathered outside in Downtown Raleigh to discuss the challenges and barriers that people face after they spend time in jail or prison.

“I’m a recovering drug addict and a survivor of severe substance abuse. My story is of redemption, restoration and hope and that people who suffer from drug addiction, from trauma, can restore their lives, can return to full healthy lives, and we need to return to full citizenship,” Puckett Williams, who has three felony convictions on her record in the state of North Carolina, said.

Dwayne Daughtry, a lobbyist and Executive Director of North Carolina for Rational Sexual Offense Law, was among other organizations in support of second chances for all who hoped to spread awareness and express concerns of how state laws unfairly target and impact people on the sex offender registry.

Bishop William J. Barber II, a social activist and President of Repairers of the Breach, was also among several speakers that helped energize crowds and tout a message that second chances for all are essential to reintegration to communities all across America.

“We’re all flawed people, but there’s a point where you can get released from your past. These are people who have paid their debt to society, and they want to be full citizens in this democracy,” he said.

At one point, the large crowd headed inside to hold a press conference and directly talk to North Carolina lawmakers. Several residents expressed concerns about a recent court ruling that ended voting rights for some people with criminal convictions. Organizers also hoped to support ending the harmful use of mugshots, expanding criminal record relief, ending debt-based driver’s license suspensions and eliminating/reducing criminal court fines and fees.

Additionally, Senator Julie Mayfield of Senate District 49 said she is committed to second chance issues and breaking down some of the barriers. Mayfield said she recently introduced Senate Bill 730, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) Benefits Bill to eliminate waiting periods and bans on services.

“Everybody says we want these folks to be productive, want them to stay out of the criminal justice system, and yet there are so many barriers to them doing that,” Mayfield said.

With support, Mayfield said she is hopeful that the bill will pass.

Puckett Williams said it meant a lot to see so much support on Tuesday.

“Oftentimes, people living with criminal convictions don’t participate and are locked out of the political process. We are showing people that we are people who are interested in what’s happening politically, that we care about our community and we are going to be here and want to be addressed,” Puckett Williams said.

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