Funding Alternatives to Incarceration can boost NC’s economy

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.

5 Comments

  1. sally scherer

    December 4, 2008 at 2:26 pm

    As an attorney, I am ashamed NC wants to build more prisons rather than fund alternatives that can help and try to rehabilitate those convicted of crimes. We already have a much-too-high prison population, especially when compared to the rest of the civilized world. Also, we could save an enormous amount of money by ending capital punishment since these cases cost far more than imprisonment for life, and we can better use our tax money for alternatives for lesser crimes.

  2. Dr. Jeffrey M. Elliot

    December 4, 2008 at 2:28 pm

    Ms. Fuller hits the key point squarely. Rather than study and adopt creative approaches to incareration, and prevent future crime, the state has chosen to adopt the time-worn, outmoded approach that more prisons are the answer. Isn’t it time that we explore several of the more promising approaches that have been proposed to reduce crime in outr state? More prisons won’t make our state safer or reduce criminal altivity. It’s time to give serious thought to the “build more prisons” approach, which makes people feel safer when, in fact, they are no safer than before. Until we address the root causes of crime, we will do little to end the violence that plagues our state.

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  4. Andrea Vizoso

    December 4, 2008 at 9:58 pm

    We can no longer afford to build prisons when there are more effective alternatives. For a long time we have indulged our desire to control “evil” by building prisons. And we have long known that it is not effective as way to reduce crime. SO now that we are in economic hard times, let’s worry more about how we spend our dollars.

  5. Wolves Guard the Henhouse

    December 6, 2008 at 2:43 pm

    When bureaucrats in state, county and city governments torpedo alternatives to incarceration like alcohol monitoring bracelets and other electronic monitoring devices in favor of building warehouses, one cannot help but wonder if there is an incestuous financial relationship going on sub rosa that encourages this wrong path. I see it over and over again–an entrepreneur will develop a good program –like CAM (continuous alcohol monitoring) only to see it torpedoed by some bureaucrat who has an axe to grind. Perhaps a little more light needs to be directed onto the decision makers and get a full disclosure of their financial entanglements with the private prison industry.

    There is so much money to be made in the private prison industry that you can be sure that the money is flowing to make sure that they get built and that we don’t get all soft and human-loving and Christ-like about the treatment of minor offenses –INCARCERATE. There’s money to be made, by golly. Wouldn’t want to stand in the way of that would we ?