NC One Step Closer to Raising the Age

With a 104 to 8 vote, the North Carolina House of Representatives passed the Raise The Age bill.  The Senate now has the bill for consideration. The Senate budget does include policy language supporting Raise The Age legislation, however no funds were allocated in the Senate budget. The recently passed House budget includes both language and funds supporting Raise The Age legislation. This is a major step towards finally raising the age in North Carolina.
The next step for Raise the Age will likely happen during budget negotiations.  The House and the Senate must hash out the differences in their budgets.  It is important that we maintain as much of the original bill as possible, most importantly including low level felonies.  Please reach out to your elected representatives and let them know you want North Carolina to raise the age on all misdemeanors and low level felonies.  North Carolina deserve to get a fair chance in life like the children in every other state in the nation.

Court of Appeals Judge Retires Early, Thwarts Court Reduction Plan

North Carolina Court of Appeals Judge Douglas Mc Cullogh has retired early and given Roy Cooper the power to appoint his replacement. This came as a surprise, as he was expected to retire at the end of May. This followed a power struggle over a bill that would reduce the number of Court of Appeals judges to 12 from 15. This bill passed on April 27th, preventing Cooper from making reappointments for the other two vacancies expected to open as Republican judges approach mandatory retirement.

Ban the Box Bill Introduced in North Carolina General Assembly

House Bill 233, entitled Ban the Box, can make getting a job a little bit easier for those people with prior convictions. Primary sponsors are Democratic Whips, Rep. Garland Pierce and Rodney Moore, along with Rep. Cecil Brockman and Rep. Charles Graham.

The bill’s primary purpose is to reduce barriers to employment for people with criminal histories, and decrease unemployment in communities with concentrated numbers of people with criminal records. The goal of the bill is to reduce recidivism and improve economic stability for communities. Rep.  Chuck McGrady, the sole Republican signed on to the bill, is also a primary sponsor for raising the juvenile age,  which is also designed to reduce long term recidivism and improve economic and social stability in North Carolina.

Contrary to many of the misconceptions about this bill, it does not prevent employers from learning about the criminal history of individuals applying for positions.  The bill calls for the elimination of the requirement to disclose that the applicant has a criminal record on the initial application.  This change will allow job seekers with criminal back grounds to make a first impression on the employer without the negative stigma of knowing the applicant made a mistake in the past.  The bill would only remove the question of previous criminal convictions from most city, county, and state job applications.

Dennis Gaddy, with Community Success Initiative, told the News and Observer that having a job reduces a person’s chance of going back to prison by 50 percent.  Carolina Justice Policy Center works to support efforts to help reduce recidivism and improve the quality of North Carolina communities.

Read more about the Ban the Box bill »

Gov. Cooper’s Budget: A Step in a Positive Direction

Gov. Roy Cooper has rolled out his budget and there is much to like in our new Governor’s approach. With the Executive and Legislative branches of government once again split along party lines, don’t expect the legislature to simply move forward with  the Governor’s budget.  Still, many of the proposals in the budget were developed by Departments under the McCrory administration and already have legislative support.  This may be particularly true in the Justice and Public Safety arena.

Department of Public Safety

Former Commissioner David Guice has now been re-appointed as the Chief Deputy Secretary for Adult Corrections and Juvenile Justice and will continue many of the initiatives he started under the McCrory administration.  Those include:

Adult Corrections

North Carolina has seen a decrease in the prison population in recent years. This has been a very positive change for a state that was at one point constructing 1,000 bed prisons almost annually.  These changes are primarily due to adjustments in the sentencing structure that were enacted prior to justice reinvestment along with changes in  revocation policies that were made as a part of Justice Reinvestment.  Another factor is that the long sentences enacted in 1994 have finally moved through a 20 year cycle and are no longer contributing to a continual population increase.

During the worst period of the economic downturn, funds saved from closed units helped maintain existing Departmental functions that would have been cut even more severely.  Since that time, some funds have been reinvested, but the reinvestments have been limited to post-release supervision officers, vehicles and CRV (confinement in response to violation) units.  No reinvestment dollars have yet gone into local services designed to increase community success and decrease recidivism.  Reinvestment dollars are desperately needed at the community level to assist with employment services, substance abuse and mental health treatment, housing and cbi (cognitive behavioral intervention) and re-entry councils.

Justice Reinvestment – Reinvestment dollars in the current budget will go toward probation and CRV units in the following items:

Expand Probation Case Management – In the current budget, $3.5 million by 2018-2019 will be “reinvested” to add a total of 56 mental health probation/post-release supervision officers. These officers will be trained to address severe and persistent mental health issues, prepare individuals for re-entry and to conduct pre-sentence investigations in making sentencing decisions.  While we fully support training probation officers in mental health needs, we would prefer to see pre-sentence work linked to Indigent Defense and provided locally through Sentencing Services as it was done from the mid-eighties through 2013.

CRV Unit – A CRV unit for females will be located at Swannanoa Correctional Center.  Costs of $1.221 million will be allocated by 2018-19.

Establish Quality Assurance Program – creates 4 positions to “monitor implementation of evidence-based programming in Adult Correction.”

Mental Health Services – Allocates $12.6 million by 2018-19 to expand behavioral treatment services.   While this is designated as a “Re-entry” item, the improved mental health services will be provided inside the prison system.

Local Re-entry Councils – We are delighted to see this appropriation. It is the first increase in state funds designed to assist local communities in their efforts to decrease recidivism since the downturn in the economy.  Grant funds have been used as seed money for 5 pilot Re-entry Councils up to this point.  The Governor’s budget appropriates  $1.5 million in 2017-18 and $2.205 is appropriated in 2018-19  to fund Local Re-entry Councils.  These funds are designed to be seed money for 2-3 years.  After that point, Councils will be expected to raise a significant portion of the funds themselves.  We commend Gov. Cooper for including this important item and for recognizing that some level of continued funding will be needed.

Re-entry – Transitional Housing – This item provides $1 million in additional funds to “extend transitional housing.”  This is an important item and, along with funding for the local Re-entry Councils, is the first increase in state funds to improve local services since the downturn in the economy.

Re-entry – Strengthen Prison Re-entry Programming – Allocates $600,000 to support designated re-entry facilities.  This is an ongoing initiative for the Department.

Central Prison Long-term Care Unit – $2.313 by 2017-18 will be appropriated for chronically ill prisoners.

Training – Samarcand – Provides $2.8 million by 2018-19 for 6 positions and 8 instructors at the Adult and juvenile training facility.

Juvenile Justice
The  Department is to be commended for its strong support for raising the juvenile age. The Governor has already included $5 million in planning dollars by 18-19 and $13.245 million to construct one 64 bed Youth Development Center as the first step in the $53 million in appropriating funds required.  All of the funds needed for construction are appropriated in 17-18 by authorizing the use of limited obligation bonds. Chief Deputy David Guice and William Lassiter continue to be important leaders in this initiative.

Juvenile Crime Prevention Councils (JCPCs)  – JCPC funds are increased by $2 million a year in the Governor’s budget.  These increases are for the under 16 population and are not tied to raising the juvenile age.  We commend DPS for consistently supporting these  community operated programs for juveniles.

Expand Crisis and Assessment Center – Repurposes a dormitory at Dobbs for essential crisis and assessment services – $900,000 is provided.

Multipurpose Group Home – $600,000 is allocated for a multi-purpose group home in Craven County.

Opioid Addiction – $2 million is provided to law enforcement to help fight opioid addiction.  While no new treatment dollars are provided in the corrections budget,  $12.7 million is provided in the DHHS budget to assist with the opioid crisis.  We hope these funds will be available for treatment of justice-involved persons and we will be keeping track of  how the funds are used.

In spite of  a continued need for treatment funds for the justice-involved population, funds available for treatment of justice involved persons at the local level has  DECREASED  in recent years.  Only 20% of Recidivism Reduction Services dollars may be used for substance abuse treatment.

We hope that percentage may increase as the opioid crisis has created a renewed recognition concerning the need for substance abuse treatment.  70% of the 16,722 prisoners who were screened by the SASSI screen indicated a need for substance abuse treatment services.  Similar needs exist with justice-involved persons in the community as well.  It’s past time to address the problems that we know exist.

Drug Treatment Courts are also an important vehicle for addressing addiction issues and Sen. Randleman (Co-chair, JPS) said she anticipates a plan from the Administrative Office of the Courts to address the issue of “specialty courts” in the near future.  The committee has eliminated funding for these courts (other than Business Court) in recent years because they do not exist in every judicial district.

Justice Department
SBI Lab – Funding High Standards – $882,000 is appropriated to fund training and certification in the state crime lab.  This is a critical item if the state is to have a truly scientific crime lab.  $500,000 is provided for essential equipment.

De-escalation Training – $170,000 will create two positions to train law enforcement officers in how to “diffuse and de-escalate violent confrontations” – particularly those that involve persons with mental illness.  We have frequently advocated in the  Update for de-escalation training and are delighted to see these positions.

Salary Overview
State employees would receive a 2% increase under this budget along with a $500 non-recurring bonus for permanent full-time State employees.  This is a significant improvement for state employees who have had to fight at every step of the budget process to get increases other than one-time bonuses which do not increase the underlying rate of pay.

Funds will be appropriated to finalize the 3 year effort to increase base pay for correctional officers.

Magistrates and Assistant and Deputy Clerks will receive a Step Pay increase.

Private Counsel – rates will be partially restored with a $5 / hour increase.  The amounts allocated for private counsel in recent years have made it increasingly difficult to “recruit and retain private counsel” according to Indigent Defense Services.

“Citizens Protection Act of 2017” – Limits Pretrial Release for Undocumented Immigrants

The House bill entitled “Citizens Protection Act of 2017” seems to be designed to do anything but protect some of the most vulnerable among us.

The  bill threatens to withhold funds from sanctuary cities who do not enforce federal immigration laws and makes it difficult for undocumented immigrants to  post pretrial bail.   The bill would allow judges to refuse bail for undocumented immigrants who are charged with a driving offense, drug crime, gang crime, or any other crime if  wanted by ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement.)

Sponsored by Republican Representatives Warren, Collins, Jordan, and Adams, the bill was met with strong opposition.  Representatives from ACLU of North Carolina, El Pueblo, Students from NC State University, and immigration attorneys all opposed the bill. Questions about the constitutionality and the inherently discriminatory provisions of the bill were raised.  There is no real justification for making the bar to pretrial release  much higher for this group of people.

The bill has yet to be set for a  committee vote.  Read more about the bill.

DWI Treatment Court and Driver’s License Restoration

A bill introduced by Senators Jim Davis (R-Cherokee) and Terry Van Duyn (D-Buncombe) would give DWI Treatment Court judges one more tool to help make North Carolina roads safer. The idea behind the bill came from a DWI Treatment Court judge who wants to incentivize recovery for DWI defendants.

The desired outcome of the bill is to increase the number of people successfully completing treatment by offering the restoration of driving privileges. Hopefully, more people completing the program will mean safer roads. The reinstatement of driving privileges does not come without some restrictions and costs.  Drivers with these conditional re-instated licenses must have and use an ignition interlock system installed in all cars they drive for the duration of the original revocation period.

The bill would allow judges to conditionally reinstate a revoked drivers license after one year if the defendant provides a certificate of graduation from a Drug or DWI Treatment or Court Program, gets a letter of recommendation from the judge, and pays a $25 fee. The bill sponsor stated that MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) supports the proposal.

The bill met with mixed review by the Senate Judiciary Committee. Senator Randleman (R-Stokes, Surry, Wilkes) expressed concern that the bill might create the impression of favoritism for individuals with access to the few DWI Treatment Courts around the state.   Senator Barringer (R-Wake) was generally favorable towards the bill, but had some concerns about costs.

The bill needs a majority vote to make it out of the Judiciary Committee.