Results of Justice Reinvestment in North Carolina is Even Better than Projected
In 2010, North Carolina faced dire projections of a rising prison population and the cost it would have to taxpayers. In response, the legislature worked with state leaders and national criminal justice stakeholders to pass comprehensive criminal justice reform, called the Justice Reinvestment Act (JRA), almost unanimously. The reforms in the legislation are based on data-driven approaches to improve public safety while reducing corrections spending and reinvesting those savings into programs that successfully reduce crime and recidivism.
Earlier this month, the Council of State Governments published a report on the effects of the reforms three years after JRA’s enactment. North Carolina’s total prison population was projected to drop from 41,030 in 2011 to a low of 38,264 by 2017. The population has already dropped well below that – 37,665 –in 2014. This has led to the closing of ten prisons, which is projected to save $48 million this fiscal year alone, and has averted $500 million in costs for building new prison facilities.
It is, of course, important to have the right balance between spending and public safety. However, the JRA is evidence that the criminal justice system is not a zero-sum game, since public safety has also increased in North Carolina the last three years. Crime rate has fallen eleven percent, and the number of convicted felons released from prison without community supervision has dropped from 84 to 48 percent, and will continue to decrease over time. Not only is this good for public safety, but it is also good for the offenders, who now have the resources they need to become better family members and productive members of society.
A few of the JRA reforms are similar to the following ALEC model policies:
- Swift and Certain Sanctions Act
- Resolution in Support of Post-Release Supervision of Offenders
- The Recidivism Reduction Act
- Earned Compliance Credit
North Carolina is not alone in facing excessive costs from high prison populations. The United States’ incarceration rate is the highest in the world, and according to a new report by The Pew Charitable Trusts, at least 28 states will still increase their prison population over the next four years unless reforms are made. North Carolina is further evidence that tried and true criminal justice reforms can be beneficial to budgets, public safety and the lives of offenders and their families as they are better reintegrated into society. States considering criminal justice reform should look to North Carolina as a model for exemplary policy development and implementation.