Forced ICE cooperation bill would shift costs to already hard-hit local governments

A proposal moving through the North Carolina General Assembly would further shift costs to local governments to score ideological points with those seeking stricter immigration enforcement even as the evidence shows that forced cooperation with ICE doesn’t make communities safer.  

Senate Bill 101, which passed the Senate last week, is modeled after bills introduced in previous sessions, with only some modifications that won’t protect local governments from the likelihood of lawsuits, nor reduce the pressure on local budgets.  

In 2019, the Budget & Tax Center analyzed then House Bill 370 to assess the impact on local budgets of forced ICE cooperation. The cumulative cost of ICE cooperation over a decade at that time was estimated at nearly $82 million. Under a proposal that would seek to increase the number of detainers issued, a forward-looking estimate of what local governments could expect is likely higher.  

That is even more so the case during COVID-19.    

Forced cooperation with ICE raises grave concerns about overcrowding and pushes against recommendation to reduce jail admissions during a pandemic. Analysis of local jail populations by the UNC School of Government found that in 2019, 41 percent of jails exceed capacity in one month, while 56 percent exceed 90 percent of jail capacity. National research has found that many people are held in jail pre-trial and that increasing jail populations are in part a result of agreements that local jails make with federal and state agencies. During COVID-19, public health and criminal justice experts have recommended reducing jail admissions because they have been documented to spread infectious diseases. Yet forcing cooperation with federal immigration agencies would increase the number of people entering local jails and could impact the global fight to end the pandemic. ICE has been connected to spreading the coronavirus, not just in the United States but across the globe.  

COVID-19 raises the costs of holding a person on an ICE detainer.  The costs of holding someone in jail have been underestimated in normal times and are likely to be much higher during the pandemic. Direct health care costs, along with the cost of staffing, maintaining social distancing and implementing other CDC guidelines, cost taxpayers.  These costs could, in part, be covered by state and federal dollars but Senate Bill 101 makes no provision for covering additional costs that would be incurred for holding someone for ICE.    

County budgets have been hit hard by the pandemic. While the full impact on the upcoming fiscal year budget is not entirely clear, a number of counties have had to reduce services because of revenue hits to fees and other revenue sources in the past fiscal year and could need to do the same going forwardLocal government employment has also remained below pre-COVID-19 levels. Raising costs for counties will require cuts to priority investments in vaccination campaigns, public schools, and infrastructure.  

The impacts of this legislation won’t be felt equally across the state.  

Small and rural counties have seen larger increases in jail costs in recent years: a 13 percent increase from 2007 to 2017 compared to just 2 percent for urban areas according to national analysis. Rural county budgets are also more likely to be hit hard by the downturn and less likely to receive aid to balance their budgets from state and federal governments.   

Senate Bill 101 demonstrates that Senate leaders continue to pursue hate, not fiscal constraint.

Alexandra Sirota is the Director of the N.C. Budget & Tax Center.

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Elon Poll: Support for COVID-19 vaccination has grown dramatically

Support for and confidence in the COVID-19 vaccine has grown dramatically in the last six months, according to a new Elon University poll released this week.

The poll, taken from March 30 to April 2, found 63 percent of respondents had already been vaccinated or plan to be.

When Elon began asking about peoples’ vaccine plans in October, only 33 percent answered “yes” when asked if they planned to be vaccinated when that became possible.

Those who are unsure or skeptical remain, however. In the poll 18 percent of respondents said they are not sure whether they will take the vaccine and 19 percent said they do not plan to do so.

“The size of the group of residents saying ‘no’ to vaccines has consistently been around 20 percent for months,” said Jason Husser, director of the Elon Poll and associate professor of political science.

Across four surveys, Elon has found the number of people against taking a vaccine holding steady at about 20 percent.

“This continues to cast doubt in my mind about whether some herd immunity goals will be met throughout all regions of North Carolina,” Husser said.

While the poll found a split in attitudes by political party, a majority of both Democrats (76 percent) and Republicans (54 percent) were in favor of vaccination. Among those who belong to neither party, 57 percent were in favor.

Dramatically more Republicans (28 percent) said they will not be vaccinated compared to Democrats (9 percent). Among those belonging to neither party, 22 percent said they would not be vaccinated.

The poll found modest variation on the issue by race, with 64 percent of white respondents saying they were already vaccinated or planned to be vaccinated and 63 percent of respondents of other races answering the same way. The poll found 59 percent of Black respondents had already been or planned to be vaccinated.

A greater variation was found according to level of education. The poll found 10 percent of those with a bachelors degree or higher said they would not be vaccinated. Among those with less than a bachelors degree, that number was 24 percent. The poll found 55 percent of those with a bachelors degree or higher said they had already been vaccinated while 31 percent of those with less than a bachelors degree said they had.

Among those who have already been vaccinated, 92 percent said they are glad they took the vaccine.

The poll found 80 percent describing the experience  of vaccination as “very easy” or “somewhat easy,” with two-thirds reporting they no negative side effects.  Of those who did experience negative side effects, 69 percent said it was no more than “a minor disruption.”

 

The poll was a representative online survey of 1,395 North Carolinians. The overall results have a credibility interval of +/- 2.8 percentage points, according to information released by the school.

Read the full report, including more information about methodology, here.

New advisory board to review sentences of individuals tried in adult criminal court as teens

In keeping with “raise the age” law, Governor establishes new panel that can make recommendations for clemency

Gov. Roy Cooper signed an executive order Thursday forming the state’s Juvenile Sentence Review Board. The advisory board will review the sentences of people who were tried in adult criminal court in their teens over a decade ago, and then make clemency and commutation recommendations to the governor, according to a press release.

Nowadays, most teens under 18 enter juvenile courts first if they don’t have criminal convictions, except if the conviction is a misdemeanor unrelated to impaired driving under North Carolina’s bipartisan Raise the Age Act. Yet before the state enacted the law in December 2019, 16 and 17-year-olds were automatically tried in the state’s adult criminal justice system regardless of their charges.

Back then, teens were denied the chance to have their cases heard in juvenile court proceedings, which includes counseling and rehabilitation and the North Carolina Judicial Branch describes as “more informal and protective than a criminal trial.” Gov. Cooper’s order now reviews the petitions of qualified individuals who missed the new opportunity before the law was passed and potentially received harsher sentences.

Those eligible to file petitions must have served at least 20 years of their active sentences, or 15 years of their minimal sentence if they have multiple sentences.

“For those who have taken significant steps to reform and rehabilitate themselves, this process can provide a meaningful opportunity for release and a life outside of prison,” Cooper said in the press release.

After receiving petitions, the board will then make recommendations based on a petitioner’s prison record, circumstances of their case as well as their mental health state at the time, rehabilitation results, the present risks to public safety, their family’s input and whether race unduly influenced their trial or sentencing.

Rep. Marcia Morey was appointed chair of the Juvenile Sentence Review Board created by Gov. Cooper.

In his order, Cooper laid out two main tasks of the board: to “promote sentencing outcomes that consider the fundamental differences between juveniles and adults” and to “address the structural impact of racial bias.”

Cooper appointed four members of the board, who serve at his pleasure:

  • Marcia Morey, chair of the review board, is the state representative for House District 30. Morey, D-Durham, was a district court judge in Durham for 18 years before serving as Chief District Court Judge for five years. She is a member of the Governor’s Task Force for Racial Equity in Criminal Justice and proposed several Raise the Age bills this year.
  • Henry McKinley “Mickey” Michaux Jr. is a civil rights attorney and a retired state legislator. He represented House District 31 twice, from 1973 through 1977, and then 1983 to 2019.
  • Thomas Walker is a partner at the Atlanta-based law firm of Alston & Bird. He is a former U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina from 2011 to 2016. He was a special counsel to Cooper when Cooper served as the state’s attorney general.
  • Allyson Duncan is a former judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth District. Prior to her tenure on the federal appellate court, Duncan served as an associate judge on the North Carolina Court of Appeals, the first African American in that position.

Morey touted the task force as “a monumental step forward for juveniles who were sentenced as adults” in a tweet.

The board was created at the recommendation of the Task Force for Racial Equity in Criminal Justice.

The order is effective immediately through the end of 2024.

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