This year will go down in history for many reasons. However, no one in this country including those living in North Carolina will soon forget the little invisible elf of 2008 who continues to cut a wider hole into their pockets each day. With less money and unemployment rates rising throughout the country, Governor Mike Easley and his cabinet are reaching for straws to protect North Carolina’s economy and it most precious resource – state revenues. By fast tracking funding into construction projects, North Carolina hopes to increase the economy through construction related jobs and enterprises.
According to the News and Observer, Easley “will put more than $700 million in capital improvement projects on the front burner.” Many North Carolinians are now shocked to discover that more prison construction, already pre-approved by the North Carolina Legislature in recent months, is part of this fast-tracked capital improvement plan marketed to boost the economy. In addition to $45.2 million for women’s health and a mental health facility, the News and Observer reported that another $63.9 million will be used to add minimum security housing to Scotland, Bertie, Tabor and Lanesboro prisons.
In light of the recent economic downturn, it is a perfect time for North Carolina to slow down and look at the implications of fast-tracked prison construction. Instead of building more minimum security beds to lock away offenders with minor criminal violations, would it not be more beneficial to the Tarheel State’s economy to invest the same funding into alternative programs to incarceration that offer substance abuse treatment, job counseling and job placement? These programs can also boost North Carolina’s economy. By adding more qualified counselors, treatment coordinators and other program staff to current programs, North Carolina can rehabilitate offenders and give them the resources to become productive taxpaying citizens and providers for their families. Perhaps, some of these newly rehabilitated citizens can also obtain jobs spurred by construction improvements.