Jails Will Take More of State’s Misdemeanor Offenders in 2012

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Beginning in January, North Carolina offenders sentenced to six months or less will serve their time in county jails rather than the state’s prisons. Offenders sentenced to 90 days or less will still serve their time in county jails, but those convicted of more serious misdemeanors like assault will no longer automatically go to minimum-custody correctional facilities.

The change is one result of the General Assembly’s efforts to cut costs at the Department of Correction while improving early intervention programs. Legislators estimated the state could save $33 million per year by allowing jails to take custody of more offenders.

According to the department, it costs the state $64.59 per day to house a prisoner in a minimum-custody facility. Officials say the law change will affect about 4,500 people annually, more than one-tenth of the state’s prison population.

Lawmakers see the law as a win for the prisons, the county jails and the communities they serve. The prisons will reduce costs and problems associated with crowding. The jails will fill beds that until now have gone empty. The money saved by the state will fund community-based programs designed to deter crime.

Counties need not participate, but those who do will collect $40 per inmate per day from a fund managed by the North Carolina Sheriff’s Association. The fund itself will be financed by state-collected court fees set to debut in 2012 as well.

To date, more than half of the state’s counties have agreed to participate. But the law applies to all offenders sentenced to six months or less. A Sheriff’s Association representative emphasized that offenders will be housed in the county where they were sentenced whenever possible; if that county is not participating in the program or does not have room, the offender will be housed as close to that county as possible.

Source: News & Observer, “Misdemeanor inmates head to jail, not prison,” Dec. 29, 2011