Budget Preview: North Carolina’s Justice and Public Safety budget requires adequate funding to fulfill responsibilities

The safety and quality of life of communities across the North Carolina rely in part on investments in our judicial and public safety systems. Significant funding cuts to the Justice and Public Safety (JPS) budget in recent years have challenged various JPS agencies to take on more responsibilities with fewer resources. Since FY2009, net appropriations for the JPS budget have been cut by more than $218 million.

In recent years, cuts in funding to the JPS budget have also resulted in increases in court costs and fees. However, the Fiscal Research Division reports that court costs collections are down about 10 percent. The legislature closed four minimum custody programs in order to reduce costs in 2011. Furthermore, state funding has been completely cut for some divisions within JPS, which are now mandated to operate as fully-receipt funded operations.

In an effort to address the steady increase in prison population and the associated costs, the Judicial Reinvestment Act (JRA), enacted in 2011, increased the responsibilities of various JPS divisions. JRA enhances the use of community corrections, non-prison alternatives such as probation sentencing for offenders, mandatory supervision for felons leaving the prison system and drug treatment programs for offenders with substance abuse problems. As more offenders enter these alternative non-prison corrections programs in the years ahead, additional resources will be required. As legislators work to craft and approve a biennial budget for FY 2014-15, some things to look for include:

  • Funding for additional probation officers. More than 105,000 offenders are under supervision today and this number is estimated to grow to more than 114,000 over the next two years. An additional 232 probation and parole officers will be needed to meet this increase in offenders. A shortfall of 40 positions currently exists.
  • Court costs and fees. Various costs and fees associated with utilizing the judicial courts have increased by as much as 40 percent in recent years. Subsequently, court costs collection receipts declined from FY2011 to FY2012. Members of the Joint Appropriations Subcommittee on Justice and Public Safety have questioned the impact of increased courts costs and fees on the ability of individuals to pay these costs. A decline in collection of these costs will require increased state appropriations to fund the state’s courts.
  • Restore funding for drug treatment courts. Last year policymakers eliminated funding for drug treatment courts, which provides a more cost-effective treatment option for drug offenders. The program cost a fraction of the nearly $28,000 it cost to keep these individuals in prison. At a time with legislators seek to cut costs, investment in drug treatment courts represent prudent public policy. In his State of the State address, Gov. McCrory called on legislators to reinstate funding for these courts.

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