NC strong in supporting ex-offender reentry, weak in prison population-reduction measures | News

NC strong in supporting ex-offender reentry, weak in prison population-reduction measures


North Carolina did not enact major legislation last year to reduce prison populations and costs, nor did it expand community-based recidivism-reduction and diversion programs, according to a new report analyzing a litany of new laws across the country.

The state did, however, rank high in enacting new laws supporting the reentry of offenders into the community. 

The report, "Recalibrating Justice: A Review of 2013 State Sentencing and Corrections Trends," was published this week by the Vera Institute of Justice's Center on Sentencing and Corrections. 

The report analyzes 85 bills enacted by 35 states last year addressing sentencing and corrections. The authors concede the list of bills they studied is not exhaustive, but rather incorporates the specific reform factors the authors measured. 

The five factors the authors measured are: reducing prison populations and costs; expanding or strengthening community-based corrections; implementing risk and needs assessments; supporting offender reentry into the community; and making better informed criminal justice policy through data-driven research and analysis. 

North Carolina legislators did not address four out of the five categories, including the most significant factor: reducing populations and costs.

By 2013, the number of people confined to state prisons surpassed 1.3 million—an increase of nearly 700 percent from 1972. Total state correctional expenditures topped $53.3 billion in 2012. The numbers have spiked since the 1970s, following legislation of punitive measures like mandatory minimum sentences and "three strike" laws for habitual offenders. 

But more recently, many states have passed new laws to help reduce those numbers, and indeed, the U.S. prison population dropped three consecutive years beginning in 2009. Studies suggest that smart community-based programs can lead to lower crime rates at less cost than incarceration, which has encouraged lawmakers to adopt new policies.

But according to the Vera study, North Carolina policymakers did make significant efforts last year to support the reentry of offenders into the community.

Reentry-support measures include laws that mitigate the collateral consequences of criminal convictions—such as restrictions on social benefits and exclusion from employment—that hinder successful reintegration of ex-offenders following their prison terms.

NC Senate Bill 91 prohibits employers and educational institutions from requiring the disclosure of expunged records of arrests, charges, or convictions, and states that a person with an expunged criminal history record is not required to disclose any prior arrests, charges or convictions.

NC Senate Bill 33 prohibits a licensing board from automatically denying a license on the basis of an applicant's criminal history, witch certain exceptions. 

NC Senate Bill 494 allows the Post-Release and Parole Commission to impose community service on offenders who are Class F through I felons and who have failed to pay any order for restitution, reparation or costs imposed as part of their sentence.

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