Opinions Vary On North Carolina's 'Justice Reinvestment' Approach - Sparrow Law Firm

Back in 2011, criminal justice officials here in North Carolina were faced with something of a financial and logistical nightmare concerning the prison population. That’s because the budget for adult corrections had ballooned to over $1.3 billion while the number of inmates sat at 41,000 with further increases expected.

Rather than asking for more funding, however, these officials began looking closely at the prison population numbers. They discovered that over half of all admissions to state prisons weren’t offenders who had committed new felonies, but rather offenders whose probation had been revoked thanks to skipped appointments with parole officers, drug test failures, absences at drug treatment sessions and other technical violations.

Recognizing that this presented a valuable opportunity, these officials worked with lawmakers to pass a 2011 law designed to redirect the state toward something known as “justice reinvestment.”

As part of the new law, the state began doing the following:

  • Opting not to formally revoke the probation of low-level offenders for technical violations, instead sending them to jail for several days at a time.
  • Opting not to formally revoke the probation of higher-level offenders for technical violations, instead sending them to jail for upwards of 90 days.
  • Increasing probation and parole oversight of those offenders believed to be at the highest risk of reoffending (i.e., those with a history of substance abuse, mental illness, prolonged criminal activity, etc.), while reducing oversight of low-risk offenders.
  • Instituting nine months of mandatory parole for various felonies such that convicts have some degree of oversight upon their release after a long prison sentence.

To date, this new approach has enjoyed considerable success, as the number of prison admissions fell by 21 percent from 2011 to the year ending June 30, 2014, the overall prison population declined by several thousand people and 10 prisons have closed. Furthermore, the budget for the adult corrections department has been reduced by $50 million, and some of the savings used to hire of 175 additional probation/parole officers.

It is worth noting that not everyone is completely on board with the state’s interest in justice reinvestment. Groups like the ACLU and the Sentencing Project have indicated that perhaps more should be done, including diverting some of this savings to fund social programs in impoverished communities and focusing on reducing onerous mandatory minimum sentences.

What are your thoughts on the state’s recent approach? Do you feel that the more should be done or are you satisfied with the results thus far?

If you or a loved one have been charged with any sort of felony or misdemeanor, consider speaking with an experienced legal professional to learn more about protecting your rights, your freedom and your future.

Source: The New York Times, “North Carolina cuts prison time for probation violators, and costs,” Erik Eckholm, Sept. 11, 2014