Project Next Step: What’s it all about?|Intervention initiative
strives to keep people
out of courts and jails

Published 2:35 am Friday, June 19, 2009

Contributing Editor

With its second phase underway, community leaders in Washington are renewing their support for Project Next Step and using confrontation to help take its message to the streets.
Project Next Step, funded by a grant authorized by the Governor’s Crime Commission, is designed to identify criminal activity in a targeted neighborhood.
The project identifies individuals involved in unlawful conduct and presents a unique manner to deal with them. If successful, the intervention eliminates overt criminal activity while bringing city and community resources available to alter the individual’s lifestyle, according to project spokesmen.
As part of the initiative, coordinated by the Washington Police Department, several people were confronted by their families, neighbors and community leaders in an effort to change their unacceptable behaviors.
“Law enforcement and the justice system have the authority, but we know the community has the real power in a moment like that,” said Lt. William Chrismon, a department spokesman, about a recent confrontation that occurred April 4.
The people confronted were given hand-delivered invitations to the Saturday morning meeting. Chief Mick Reed, Chrismon and April Corbett, Project Next Step coordinator, delivered the invitations. Members of their families also were invited.
Chrismon said the theory behind the confrontations is to prevent specific people from “entering the justice system by showing a united team effort with law enforcement and the community.”
The meeting coincided with a series of arrests and search-warrant executions that took place in the 48 hours prior to the meeting, Chrismon said.
Seth Edwards, district attorney for the 2nd Prosecutorial District, which includes Beaufort County, attended the meeting, as did Washington Mayor Judy Meier Jennette, City Council members and community members.
They voiced their concerns with certain criminal behaviors exhibited by the people who were confronted, Chrismon said.
The people confronted were introduced to Corbett and given opportunities to meet with her by a specified deadline to avoid criminal prosecution. By the deadline, Corbett had met with each person, Chrismon said.
Those people were given the option of following a plan that includes educational, health and employment avenues to help prevent their return to criminal behavior, he said.
“It was a very moving intervention,” Jennette said Monday when the City Council received an update on Project Next Step.
Four of the five people who opted to participate in Project Next Step remain in the program. The other person, as of Monday, was locked up in the Beaufort County Detention Center for failing to follow program guidelines and rules.
“Thanks to the district attorney’s office, law enforcement and many volunteers, we have the opportunity not only to improve the environment in our targeted community, but show our city that law enforcement and our citizens are working together for the same goals,” Corbett said. “We’ve been planning this for months and have been blessed with guidance and assistance from all components of our neighborhood and our county.”