Prisons – The New Graveyard of the Atlantic

The treacherous waters off the Outerbanks of North Carolina are commonly known as the ‘Graveyard of the Atlantic.’  In a correctional storm that has brewed over the last thirty years, North Carolina’s prisons have become the new graveyard of the Atlantic as lives and dollars are wasted each day at an enormous cost to taxpayers. 

In North Carolina, the waters are still crashing as the waves of prison spending pour on historically underfunded community-based corrections programs.  Community-based corrections programs are evidence-based programs that provide support, intervention, treatment and rehabilitation at varying levels to offenders within their local communities.  Some of these programs are referred to as alternatives to incarceration and others are called re-entry programs.  Regardless of their correct name, these programs are for offenders that do not present any significant threat to public safety and research shows that they work.

While scholars throughout the nation continue to praise the role of community-based corrections programs in cutting prison costs, maintaining valuable family relationships and reducing recidivism, North Carolina’s most recent round of budget cuts will completely eliminate such programs that rely on state funding.  State leaders proclaim that eliminations in all departments are necessary.  Unfortunately, North Carolina is following a national trend to cut correction dollars the most. 

The impact of such cuts to effective community programs are deadlier than the waves off the coast of North Carolina.  There is no question that community-based corrections programs must be saved from any impending cuts.  However, there has to be a comprehensive push from state legislators and the Council of State in reforming North Carolina’s criminal justice system.  This is more than just a criminal justice issue and sentencing laws are far reaching. 

A recent study by the Pew Charitable report stated that “1 in 38 North Carolina adults” are in the correctional system and the numbers are worst for minorities.  When just one person is sent to prison, tax revenues are lost from a person that could be working and financial and parental support is lost for children that have increasing dropout and delinquency rates.

In addition to supporting programs in the community, the Tarheel state cannot afford to go another year without passing meaningful sentencing changes.  Such changes will significantly decrease the number of non-violent offenders who currently reside in our state prisons at an annual average cost of $27,000 per person – $20,000 more per year than we currently put into education per pupil.  Also, legislative fiscal notes that are required anytime North Carolina seeks to increase criminal penalties must look at state costs in terms other than just the costs of prison beds. 

The answer to criminal justice problems in North Carolina has always been ‘let’s build another prison.’  In touch economic times, it’s the perfect time to change this manner of thought.  Everyone must get involved and understand the clear impact and costs to the state when we lock up nonviolent offenders.  In ten years, smart approaches to criminal justice policies can result in more dollars for community-based programs, more dollars to educate our children, and rehabilitated lives.  We are living in a national climate of change and everyone must be willing to roll up their sleeves and shift the treacherous tides of past correctional spending in this state this year.  It’s time to breathe life back into our graveyard through smart approaches to criminal justice policies.


Over 75 staff members and participants in North Carolina community-based corrections programs gathered in the state capital with bipartisan support from state and local leaders last week.  Please view the press conference below:  Press Conference – Support NC\’s Community-based Corrections Programs


  1. Dale

    March 3, 2009 at 5:48 pm

    Charmaine is absolutely correct in her post above. We are wasting taxpayer dollars by trying to “punish” so many of the non-violent criminal offenders for such things as “simple possession” and/or personal use of marijuana and so forth. Truth is, many people in America believe that marijuana should be legalized and controlled just as alcohol is legal and is controlled. The positive tax implications of legalizing marijuana are immense.

    We have to have a different mindset in this regard. It will be met with huge opposition from the far right, but if not done now with the majority supporting actions left-of-center, the possibility may be forever lost.

  2. A Norml Guy

    March 3, 2009 at 6:22 pm

    dont expect a legalization bill this session of the legislature. There are huge swaths of the illiberal North Carolina population that are captive of the old-timey cultural mythology: Tobacco-good, marijuana bad.

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