A March 3rd, 2009 NY Times article questions the design, management, reporting and usefulness of the controversial 287g laws.  These federal laws were designed to deport illegal immigrants who committed violent felonies through the use of locally deputized law enforcement officials.  Local law enforcement throughout the nation, including locals in North Carolina, have received federal funding from the department of Homeland Security to deputize officers to handle immigration matters. 

Due to a lack of clear goals and inadequate reporting for this controversial program, no one knows the number of people who have been deported wrongfully from the United States for low-level crimes other than felonies and the US’s Government Accountability Office is now investigating the program.  A recent study by the UNC School of Law and North Carolina’s ACLU Legal Foundation found that 287g immigration policies are resulting in numerous problems including ‘racial profiling and community insecurity’ within Hispanic communities.

The birth of these flawed immigration laws came out of the September 11th attacks.  In an effort to secure the United States’ borders, local law enforcements’ actions against a primarily Hispanic population are misaligned, wasteful of federal resources and culturally insensitive.  It’s time for policymakers to realize that these laws are not targeting the terrorists that they were designed to ‘weed out’ and that this is not a simple immigration issue.  This has become America’s silent and targeted war on people whose ethnic origins originated from below the southern borders of the United States.

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

Comments made by the lame duck administration of Governor Mike Easley in Tuesday’s News and Observer stating that “more prisoners need to be kept behind bars” in reaction to problems in the probation system have raised the eyebrows and tempers of North Carolina’s citizens. Citizens have repeatedly called for more funding for effective alternatives to incarceration that can truly rehabilitate offenders in the community.  Demanding more funding for prison cells at a time when budget forecasters are projecting a budget shortfall in excess of two to three billion dollars in this state is a failed solution and response that has already failed the hardworking families of North Carolina for too many years. 

Do North Carolinians really want to spend $22,000 per year to lock up one person under minimum custody supervision or do we want to look at better options that can rebuild the lives of nonviolent offenders and ensure that they can become productive tax contributing citizens of North Carolina? 

The ‘lock ‘em up’ option offered by the outgoing governor highlights outdated solutions and the need for management to bring the criminal justice system into the new millennium.  This must be done in a manner that still protects public safety and saves taxpayer dollars.

The administration should look at making the probation system functional before spending millions to add new prisons.  We need a management system that can provide an accelerated training schedule for incoming probation officers and a hiring system that does not take six months to negotiate.  Some of those changes require quality leadership, not just money. 

Supplements:

Visit http://www.doc.state.nc.us/dop/cost/index.htm to compare North Carolina’s average cost of prison incarceration per inmate to other community-based supervision levels. – NC Dept of Corrections

Probation’s Main Problem is Sentencing, Easley Says (Dec. 17, 2008) – News & Observer http://www.newsobserver.com/news/story/1336819.html

 

Charmaine S. Fuller, Executive Director

Carolina Justice Policy Center

www.justicepolicycenter.org

“The Carolina Justice Policy Center is a statewide criminal justice advocacy and policy based nonprofit organization that has promoted effective, equitable and humane solutions to criminal justice problems since 1975.”

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.