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Probation incentive program keeps offenders from going back to jail

GUILFORD COUNTY, N.C. -- Getting a certificate for doing the right thing may not seem like a big deal to most people.

"For a lot of folks it seems very insignificant, but for the folks that we recognize, for a lot of them it is a really big turning point," Probation Officer Kim Shearon said.

Shearon honored several of the offenders she supervises at a ceremony in Greensboro Wednesday night. About two dozen offenders were recognized for good behavior.

The ceremony is part of the North Carolina Department of Public Safety's new approach to probation and parole.

David King is the judicial district manager over Guilford, Surry, Stokes and Rockingham counties. King says for many years more than half of all the people admitted into prisons and jails in the state violated some aspect of their parole.

That statistic was one reason why probation officers now treat each offender differently, based on their history and personal story.

"It was overwhelming a little bit at first because I was kind of nervous... It kind of feels good to have recognition for doing the right thing, I can't complain I've got a strong support system," Shi Leach said.

Leach is 21 years old and on probation for drug possession charges.

Shearon, who he calls "Miss Kim," says his attitude is the first thing she noticed.

"He's highly motivated but he doesn't want to come back and do the rinse and repeat that so many folks that we have supervised in the past do," she said.

Leach has already got his job back, repaired relationships with his family and is now working on getting back on track in school.

"For him to come in and say I'm going to do this, I'm going to do it right, it's a really blessing for us," Shearon said.

Leach says he was honest with Shearon from the beginning and asked her to help him stay away from his past habits.

He also said his time on probation has helped him see his situation in a different way.

"Most people feel that the system is unfair and this and that when really nobody put us in this situation but ourselves. So with that being said, the quicker you accept reality for the situation, you are better to overcome and achieve the goals that you've got set will come true," Leach said.

State leaders say not only is the incentive program better for the offenders, it frees up space in crowded prisons and jails and uses less taxpayer money.