Prison Bars

Reducing the Use of Prisons and Jails

There are three major ways to reduce the use of prisons and jails:  diverting individuals at the point of arrest; providing and funding effective alternatives to prison at the local level that can reduce recidivism; and reducing excessive sentence lengths.   To learn more about each of these options, click on the menu buttons to the right.

Prisons – Overview

In  2014, 1 in 36 adults (2.8% of adults) were under correctional supervision – probation, parole, jail or prison.  Sentencing and correctional policies – not crime rates – are responsible for the U.S. acceleration in the number of persons locked up and under correctional supervision. The U.S. has one of the highest incarceration rates in the world with 471/100,000 state and federal adults in prison (2014). On Dec. 31, 2014, state and federal prisons housed 1,508,636 prisoners.  In recent years, the national prison growth has slowed for the first time since the Bureau of Justice Statistics began collecting data in 1977.   In 2014, prisoners held in state and correctional facilities were down by 1% from 2013.

North Carolina has also seen extensive growth in the prison population over the last 3 decades. However, North Carolina has done a better job than many states of managing its population by paying careful attention to sentencing policies. NC had an incarceration rate of 358/100,000 in 2014, placing our state well below the national average state incarceration rate of 412/ 100,000 in 2014.  North Carolina’s incarceration rate is also lower than any other Southern state.  While much work remains to be done, North Carolina has made important progress relative to many states.

In 2011, North Carolina enacted a criminal justice reform initative called the Justice Reinvestment Act (JRA). The JRA was designed to reinvest corrections dollars with a goal of reducing recidivism rates and thereby generating further savings. By 2015, the state closed 11 small prisons,  which according to the Department of Public Safety, saved approximately $195 million between FY 2012 and FY 2015.   The Department of Public Safety reports than an additional $560 million dollars in prison construction and operational costs will be “saved or avert[ed]” based on a projected 2017 prison population.

Unfortunately, even though these prison closures did help meet state budget cuts, savings have not yet been reinvested in communities.  Some of the savings from closures were used to add 175 additional probation and parole officers and to expand expand electronic monitoring.   Community-based programs have seen no increases overall and actual spending on programs that help reduce recidivism and promote community success have decreased.  Each county has limited treatment services for people who have the greatest need for treatment and are at the highest risk of reoffending.  These state funded, evidence-based services include cognitive behavioral interventions and very limited substance abuse treatment services.  At least $60 million in revinvestment dollars are needed at the community level to increase community success and to realize the promise of the Justice Reinvestment Act at the community level.

The North Carolina Sentencing and Policy Advisory Commission produced this 2016 report detailing developments under the various provisions of the Justice Reinvestment Act.

The Whole Pie 2016 – March 14, 2016, Prison Policy Initiative

California Prison Population Reduction: Corrections ‘Realignment’ Starts Now – September 29, 2011, Huffington Post Los Angeles

NC Crime Data: 2004 to 2015 – State Bureau of Investigation

Jails – Overview

North Carolina has jails in 97 counties across the state. These range from multiple facilities in counties like Wake, Mecklenburg and Guilford, to small, older facilities in many rural areas.

Jails have been used in North Carolina primarily as detention facilities for persons awaiting trial. The Justice Reinvestment Act moved misdemeanants serving less than 6 months and all covictions for DWI related charges to be served in jails.  This shift in housing, among other variables, has resulted in  the closing of 11 state prisons  since 2011.  Savings have not yet been reinvested at the local level and the annual budget for treatment and community-based programs that is less than it was prior to the change.

From Our Blog: Mass Incarceration Updates