Crime & Courts

Antoine Ensley would bring diverse experience to Mecklenburg Sheriff’s Office

Second in a series

Antoine Ensley says his resume gives him a leg up in the race for Mecklenburg sheriff.

Ensley has been a police officer, a SWAT team negotiator, and a recruiter. For 18 months, he was a police chief in Fletcher, about 120 miles west of Charlotte, and he’s headed a juvenile justice system reform effort in Norfolk, Va.

He also ran for Mecklenburg Sheriff before, losing in 2010 to Chipp Bailey.

This time around, he’s taking on Irwin Carmichael in the Democratic primary on May 6. Early voting starts April 24.

Ensley said he sees the diversity in his resume as a strength: It helps him see how all the pieces of the law enforcement puzzle work together.

“The police department and the Sheriff’s Office can’t work in a vacuum,” he said. “If the police and the Sheriff’s Office believe they can solve community issues by themselves, they’re wrong.”

One thing he’s picked up from other states’ criminal justice systems is a passion to raise the age in which a person is treated as an adult. North Carolina is one of two states that treats 16-year-olds as adults.

Ensley says North Carolina should focus more on rehabilitation than punishment with teens.

“We know scientifically and developmentally that kids, particularly male kids, are still developing into their 20s,” Ensley said. “We need the sheriff to continue to champion to raise the age” when defendants are treated as adults.

Ensley said that as sheriff, he also wants to re-evaluate some of the programs enacted under Bailey and his predecessor, Jim Pendergraph.

In particular, Ensley thinks the work-release program can be revamped.

“I’m not suggesting that the program should go away,” he said. “But if the people in the program can be supervised from home and have their jobs, then why do we fund the work-release and restitution center? You want to put those dollars to other programs.”

Ensley said that if elected, he’d appoint a team of staffers whose job is to evaluate the effectiveness of Sheriff’s Office programs.

Ensley said a weakness of the Sheriff’s Office is relying on traditional programs instead of seeing which programs have a track record of success in Mecklenburg and across the country. He said he’d like to explore whether the Sheriff’s Office should push for tax credits for employers who hire recent inmates. He also said the Sheriff’s Office should try to begin or supplement mentoring programs for at-risk youth.

“I don’t want to denigrate anything the sheriff has done,” he said. “There are some programs that we have in the jail that they view as very successful. ... But one thing we don’t do a good job at is looking at programs and how we measure success.”

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