Most programs assisting people with long-term license suspensions make them come down to the courthouse. We piloted a new application process that allowed residents to apply by text message or email, and used a trusted messenger to take fliers advertising the program out into the community.

10 – 15% of our clients have a driver’s license.  When they lose it, it is such a killer.  That guy with a license is gold when it comes to finding work.
— Durham service provider

Initiative description

During the first two weeks of November, the City of Durham partnered with the District Attorney’s Office to run a pilot program to assist low-income residents whose driver license had been suspended for more than 18 months for Durham County charges that did not involve DWIs. Read below to learn more about the prototype, what we accomplished and learned, and how we plan to build on this work in the year ahead.


Please note, this program is not currently accepting applications.  If you have any upcoming traffic court dates, you must attend them. If you would like to find out when the application process re-opens, please fill out the form below and we will email you with updates.

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Over 2,000 people applied over the two week period in fall of 2017 - compared to a couple of dozen who participated the last time when individuals were required to show up in person at the courthouse.  


450 people

The number of people who had old charges dismissed that were preventing them from restoring their driver licenses.


85 people

The number of people represented by pro bono attorneys in court for inability to fine old fines and fees.


  • Well-intentioned programs can be designed in ways that unintentionally discourage participation. Making programs easier to access (via text messages) and designing to build trust where it is lacking due to systemic racism (via community outreach with a trusted messenger) can increase the number of low income residents who participate in and benefit from legal services.

  • Next time we should include an option for people to apply in person. Some individuals would have preferred to come down to the courthouse, wait in line, and meet with a person face-to-face.

  • Next time we should use technology to develop a smart text message application system. In our first prototype we relied on a very low-fidelity application system -- one of our team member's cell phone numbers (which meant personally responding to thousands of text messages). We are currently working with Code for Durham to create an automatic text message application system to respond to applicants immediately and help identify if they are eligible for the program.

  • We need to develop a common regional approach to driver license restoration. Many Durham residents have issues in surrounding counties. Unless we develop a more regional program, we will only be able to help these individuals get half way to having their license restored. And that doesn't help.

What led us to work on this?

45% of people with driver’s license suspensions reported losing their job and not being able to find a new one.

We decided to focus on this area based on the lived experiences of our residents and data that confirmed this was a barrier to employment for 46,000 Durham residents, or 1 in 5 adults.  The racial disparities are staggering: approximately 80% of those with suspended licenses are people of color.  Most have had their license suspended for more than a year for reasons not involving DWIs.  Having a license is about more than just getting to work; it is about finding work and moving out of low wage jobs. 

Racial Disparities of License Suspensions in Durham County


What's next?

The City of Durham is working in partnership with the Durham Courts, NC Justice Center, Legal Aid, NC Equal Access to Justice Commission, NC Pro Bono Resource Center, local areas law schools, Code for Durham, and many others to create the Durham Expunction and Restoration (DEAR) Program. DEAR will launch officially in January 2019, which will include a new office dedicated to advancing this work year-round. We also working with Code for Durham to design a smarter text message application process. Sign up above to get updates on when the office is open and the services it will offer Durham residents. 

We are working with Code for Durham to design a smarter text message intake process that will automatically respond to applicants to help assess eligibility.

We are working with Code for Durham to design a smarter text message intake process that will automatically respond to applicants to help assess eligibility.



Initiative description

Having a criminal record or a suspended driver license makes it much harder for residents to find work and housing and to share in Durham's prosperity. These issues affect tens of thousands of Durham residents, many of whom cannot afford legal representation that could assist them in expunging criminal records, restoring drivers' licenses, or getting certificates of relief.

Currently, our community is only able to provide pro bono legal assistance in these areas to several hundred residents each year. As a result, thousands who are poor suffer worse or longer-term consequences than wealthier, more privileged individuals charged with similar offenses. We seek to address this challenge through a new, multi-faceted approach -- the Durham Expunction and Restoration (DEAR) program -- designed to significantly scale up our community’s capacity to expunge records, restore drivers' licenses, and grant certificates of relief.

DEAR draws from lessons we learned with our first driver’s license restoration pilot. The program officially launches in January 2019. Be on the lookout for the new website:


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Currently, the only consistent touchpoint for someone returning home to Durham from prison is their probation officer. What if we did more to welcome people back home? What if we could connect returning residents to trusted mentors to help them navigate a complex system of service providers? Could a better first month back make a difference? The Welcome Home project is piloting a new program to find out.

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Is this really a letter from the mayor? I don’t believe it. The mayor wants us back here?
— Welcome Home participant

Initiative description

The Welcome Home project offers peer support and a package of essential items — including toiletries, food and a letter from the mayor — to residents returning to Durham from state prison. During a resident’s first month home, this program helps orient people to the resources available in our community, provides social and emotional support, and illustrates to returning residents that their community wants them to succeed in reentry. During the initial pilot phase, the City is offering the program to people returning home to Durham from Wake, Orange and Polk Correctional facilities.


This project is a partnership with the Local Reentry Council, the Religious Coalition for a Non-Violent Durham and Durham Congregations in Action, with support from Durham CAN and First Presbyterian Church.

learn more and find out how to sponsor a welcome home package

If you know of people returning home to Durham from Wake, Orange or Polk prison locations, if you want to find out when the program expands to other facilities, or if you or your organization are interested in helping sponsor Welcome Home packages, please get in touch with us using the form below. Thank you!

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sponsor a welcome home package

Welcome Home Box | How To Guide

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Please check all that apply. *

WHAT led us to this work

Insights from those who have experienced reentry provided the basis for this project. The following quotes highlight a couple consistent themes we heard in our conversations with over 100 Durham justice-involved residents.

A probation-only approach is insufficient.

"For folks that you just dump out of jail… especially if you dump them out on probation, you know where they're going? Back to jail. Back to prison. But imagine that same person you dumped out on parole or probation coming to a program who’s mentored them all the way out the door; he's never going back."
–Durham justice involved resident

People who have lived it are uniquely equipped to support their peers returning home.

"We can get to them a lot better because we’ve been there and lived that situation, lived in the street, lived under the bridge, did this crime... and at the same token, we're rehabilitating ourselves as we go along."
–Durham justice involved resident

"People closest to the problem are closest to the solution."
–Durham attorney


Since launching the program in November 2018, we have welcomed home eight people returning to Durham from prison. Our goal is to connect returning residents with needed supports and trusted mentors more quickly, providing a solid foundation to rebuild upon and lowering this risk of continued justice involvement. We will report on the these outcomes and lessons learned in the coming months.

A peer support specialist writes personalized letters to people returning home to Durham from surrounding correctional institutes.

A peer support specialist writes personalized letters to people returning home to Durham from surrounding correctional institutes.

What's next?

Beginning in January 2019, we will expand our efforts to include working with residents coming home from North Carolina Correctional Institution for Women and working in partnership with more faith communities. As we measure success and improve our process, we hope to expand this work to include other facilities by the fall of 2019.