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Highlights from North Carolina’s First Criminal Justice Summit

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On March 15, 2019, the School of Government hosted North Carolina’s first Criminal Justice Summit. At the Summit, national and state experts with broad-ranging ideological perspectives discussed key issues capturing attention in North Carolina and around the nation. They explored how these issues impact justice, public safety and economic prosperity in North Carolina, and whether there is common ground to address them. A broad range of state leaders and stakeholders attended the program, which was presented with support from the Charles Koch Foundation. For those who couldn’t attend, here are some highlights.

The Summit agenda included panel discussions on four key criminal justice issues, with each session including a question and comment period from the audience and anonymous, live polling by audience members on consensus proposals offered by the panelists. The four issues were: Bail Reform; Fines & Fees; Overcriminalization; and The Criminal Record & Collateral Consequences. Each panel was composed of two national and two state experts, with each pair of experts coming at the issue from different perspectives. Prior to the event, the panelists developed three to four consensus solutions to present to Summit attendees for live polling.

Interest in the program was robust, and the wait list was as high as 187. In the end, we had a diverse list of 240 registered attendees, from all three branches of government, every level of the court system, and the law enforcement community. Attendees also included representatives from a diverse group of advocates, members of the business community and the bail bonds industry, and more.

For me, a major highlight is the results from the live, anonymous polling of attendees. Here are the results from that polling, by subject area.

Bail Reform

Participants were asked to assess the importance of bail reform. Specifically, they were asked:

Bail reform is an important issue for North Carolina; we need to work on it.

Poll results were as follows:

  • Agree – 95.15%
  • Disagree – 3.03%
  • Undecided – 1.82%.

Attendees then were asked to provide live, anonymous feedback on consensus reform proposals offered by the panelists. Choices for each question included: Support; Support, with caveats; Oppose; Undecided. The questions and results were as follows:

  1. Adopt a carefully limited constitutional preventative detention procedure for the most dangerous defendants who cannot safely be released pretrial.

81.67% of participants supported this proposal, with 45% supporting it with caveats; 11.67% opposed this proposal; and 6.67% were undecided.

  1. Revise local policies to honor the existing statutory preference for nonfinancial conditions.

94.51% supported this proposal, with 22.53% supporting it with caveats; 2.75% opposed this proposal; and 2.75% were undecided.

  1. Eliminate wealth-based detentions by requiring ability to pay determinations before imposition of financial conditions.

88.34% supported this proposal, with 25.56% supporting it with caveats; 5.56% opposed this proposal; and 6.11% were undecided.

  1. Reinvest money spent on unnecessary pretrial incarceration in appropriate pretrial supervision and services.

94.03% supported this proposal, with 19.57% supporting it with caveats; 2.72% opposed this proposal, and 3.26% were undecided.

Fines & Fees

As with all sessions, the first polling question asked participants to assess the importance of the issue. Specifically, it asked:

The issue of criminal fines and fees is an important issue for North Carolina; we need to work on it.

Poll results were as follows:

  • Agree – 93.3%
  • Disagree – 2.79%
  • Undecided – 3.91%

Attendees submitted live, anonymous responses with respect to four consensus proposals for North Carolina from the panelists. The proposals and responses were as follows:

  1. Require “right-sizing” of all obligations through up-front ability to pay determinations.

90.91% supported this proposal, with 38.07% supporting it with caveats; 5.11% opposed this proposal; and 3.98% were undecided.

  1. Allow for alternatives for those who cannot pay e.g., community service.

88.76% supported this proposal, with 35.39% supporting it with caveats; 5.62% opposed this proposal; and 5.62% were undecided.

  1. Limit use of arrest as a response to nonpayment.

89.67% supported this proposal, with 23.91% supporting with caveats; 5.43% opposed this proposal; and 4.89% were undecided.

  1. Eliminate revocation of drivers licenses for nonpayment.

87.63% supported this proposal, with 19.89% supporting it with caveats; 9.68% opposed this proposal; and 2.69% were undecided.

Overcriminalization

As with all sessions, the first polling question asked participants to assess the importance of the issue. Specifically, it asked:

Overcriminalization is an important issue for North Carolina; we need to work on it.

Poll results were as follows:

  • Agree – 89.29%
  • Disagree – 8.57%
  • Undecided – 5.14%

Attendees were asked to provide live, anonymous feedback on consensus reform proposals from the panelists. Choices for each question included: Support; Support, with caveats; Oppose; Undecided. The questions and results were as follows:

  1. Commission-supported legislative purging effort.

93.33% supported this proposal, with 29.44% supporting it with caveats; 3.89% opposed this proposal; and 2.78% were undecided.

  1. Repeal code provision allowing local governments and administrative boards and bodies to create crimes.

75.72% supported this proposal, with 26.59% supporting it with caveats; 19.65% opposed this proposal; and 4.62% were undecided.

  1. For bills proposing new crimes, more information to legislators earlier about (1) need for the law; (2) overlap with existing crimes; and (3) enforcement costs.

94.08% supported this proposal, with 6.51% supporting it with caveats; 4.14% opposed this proposal; and 1.78% were undecided.

The Criminal Record & Collateral Consequences

As with all sessions, the first polling question asked participants to assess the importance of the issue. Specifically, it asked:

The issue of criminal records and collateral consequences is important for North Carolina; we need to work on it.

Poll results were as follows:

  • Agree – 96.99%
  • Disagree – 1.5%
  • Undecided – 1.5%.

Attendees then were asked to provide live, anonymous feedback on consensus reform proposals from the panelists. Choices for each question included: Support; Support, with caveats; Oppose; Undecided. The questions and results were as follows:

  1. Automatic expunction/sealing of records in cases that are dismissed/result in acquittal.

95.07% supported this proposal, with 30.28% supporting it with caveats; 4.93% opposed this proposal; and 0% were undecided.

  1. Automatic expunction/sealing of conviction records after an appropriate waiting period.

89.55% supported this proposal, with 52.24% supporting it with caveats; 8.96% opposed this proposal; and 1.49% were undecided.

  1. Simplified, uniform criteria and procedures for expunction/sealing.

98.53% supported this proposal, with 9.56% supporting it with caveats; 0.74% opposed this proposal; and 0.74% were undecided.

Want to learn more about the Summit? My full report of proceedings is posted here.

3 comments on “Highlights from North Carolina’s First Criminal Justice Summit

  1. The erosion of local municipalities ability to self govern by people in Raleigh who think they know better continues apace. Maybe there was some compelling evidence presented at the summit, but I am disappointed to see over 70% of the respondents favored further diminishing of their rights.

  2. I’d really be interested in seeing the breakdown by what branch of government, or what branch of the justice system, the votes came from.

    Automatic expunction seems like something defense attorneys and their ilk would be in support of, while law enforcement and DAs might oppose it, as it would make it harder for them to introduce and connect prior crimes to the suspects being investigated.

    • Chris,
      Good question. We didn’t get that information from the polling. However, my full report on the Summit (here: https://www.sog.unc.edu/sites/www.sog.unc.edu/files/course_materials/NC%20CJ%20Summit%20Report%204.1.2019.pdf) gives you the tallies of types of officials who attended. Given the tremendous diversity of attendees, the consensus was striking. The report also includes discussion records being shielded from public view but accessible to law enforcement & prosecutors if the person re-enters the system. Detail in the full report.
      –Jessie

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