“I wish I knew more about what’s out there.” That was the comment from a thoughtful superior court judge attending a sentencing law class at the School of Government. We were discussing the tremendous legal flexibility the judge has in shaping a probationary sentence (essentially any program related to the defendant’s rehabilitation is permissible under G.S. 15A-1343(b1)(1), (2), or (10)). “That’s great as a matter of law,” the judge said (I’m paraphrasing), “but only so helpful if we don’t know what programs actually exist and who can attend them.” It’s a great point.
I don’t have a perfect answer, but I want to use today’s post to share a link to one of the best resources I know of. The Department of Public Safety has an online County Resource Guide that collects information about many of the community programs available across North Carolina. The website allows the user to query all the community resources available in the state or in a particular county. The query can also be limited to particular “life areas” (for example, education, financial, mental health, or sobriety), or service types (child care and emergency housing, among many others). The information capsules that return for each service provider include contact information, a description of the program, and basic eligibility requirements, such as whether program charges a fee or accepts sex offenders.
The site is designed primarily with probation officers and social workers in mind, but it strikes me as potentially useful to lawyers and judges, too. For instance, a careful review of available community resources may, in a close case, inform the judge’s decision between an active and probationary sentence. In general, my sense is that advocates will have greater success lobbying for a non-incarcerative punishment if they can point to (and, better still, make advance arrangements with) a particular programmatic alternative.
North Carolina is a large and populous state, and the landscape of available resources is changing as we continue the transition from the locally-based Criminal Justice Partnership Program (CJPP, repealed by the Justice Reinvestment Act in 2011) to the centrally-administered Treatment for Effective Community Supervision (TECS) program. There is no substitute for local knowledge, but the County Resource Guide may provide helpful direction in appropriate cases.