Farm to help female ex-cons being developed near Graham

ALAMANCE COUNTY, N.C. — A plan to help women exiting prison is moving forward faster than expected, prompting some concerns in the Mount Hermon community, near Graham.

Benevolence Farm plans to open a working farm and home for women just out of prison.

“More than 2,600 women come out of North Carolina prisons each year and many of them don’t have the resources that they need to successfully transition back into their communities,” said Tanya Jisa, a social worker who developed the plan for the farm.

The idea is to give women who volunteer for the program a chance to learn new skills and have a stable home for six months to two years following their release — a time when many people struggle

“These are women who have served out their sentences with the Department of Public Safety,” said Jisa. “They have been deemed ready to return to the community and, more importantly, these women are recognizing that they need some help.”

Eleven acres were being developed for the farm off Thompson Mill Road. Housing for 12 women was also going to be built. It was set to open in the fall of 2015.

Instead, the purchase of a home adjacent to the land will speed up the plans with two women possibly being able to move into the house by the fall of 2014 and two more in early 2015.

That has some concerned neighbors scrambling to alert the community and hoping to convince Jisa to not allow violent offenders or women who hurt children to stay at Benevolence Farm.

“I want to know that our community is safe,” said Debbie Coble Newell, who lives just down the road from the planned farm.

Coble Newell believes others will also be concerned about the impact to their property value.

“If I were going to sell, who wants to buy property next to that? Nobody; so you’re property value is going to go into the dirt,” said Coble Newell.

Coble Newell said she learned about the halfway house from a postcard that went to her church. She feels attempts by Benevolence Farm to alert neighbors about plans for the farm have been half-hearted.

Jisa said before April, move-in plans were more than one year away but since then she’s held one community meeting about the farm and welcomes more.

“The community is anxious to share more of their feelings and thoughts with us and we are very committed to continuing this conversation and hoping to find some common ground,” said Jisa.


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