In 2007, the NC Governor’s Crime Commission released a report entitled “A Discussion of Incarceration and Its Alternatives in North Carolina.” This report discussed the problem of overcrowding in the state’s prisons. From 1997 to 2007, prison populations had grown at an average annual rate of about 3% a year. Meanwhile, lengthening sentences exacerbated a situation in which the number of inmates that needed to be housed in prisons exceeded prison capacity. Not only was the cost to taxpayers expanding, but there was evidence that the current prison system was contributing to repeat offences, and thus repeated incarceration.
The report went on to propose possible solutions to this situation. While more prisons were being built, continued growth of prison populations would make these measures both temporary and costly and best. Community based programs, particularly for those convicted of misdemeanors, are both cheaper and tend to lower re-arrest, re-conviction, and re-incarceration rates. Measures such as supervision, community based therapy, community drug treatment, and employment training were all proposed as possible measures to increase benefits for both taxpayers and offenders.
Fast forward to 2014, and the Justice Center’s report “Justice Reinvestment in North Carolina: Three Years Later” showcases some of the changes that have been made to North Carolina’s justice system. Supervision of individuals on parole has been improved; parole officers were given more tools to handle parole violations, and better help in identifying those at a greater risk of repeat offenses. Meanwhile, substance abuse and mental health treatment are more readily available to released inmates. Space in prison is reserved for felons and repeat offenders. In fact, since 2011, both prison populations and admissions have declined.
In short, North Carolina turned around its overcrowding problem by helping convicts reintegrate into society with prolonged prison sentences. This allows them to become functioning members of society with greatly decreased odds of commiting more crimes. In addition, money not spent on the prison system can fund other important state programs. Overall, these reforms have helped make the entire community of North Carolina a better place to live.