North Carolina on Probation

This morning’s New York Times included an opinion piece by Bill Keller entitled America on Probation. It talks about the recent movement away from incarceration as the cornerstone of the American criminal justice system, and the emergence of new community-based supervision strategies that are both cheaper and, advocates argue, more effective.

The editorial coincides with the release of a new report from the Urban Institute on the progress of a multi-state initiative that lies at the heart of this movement. If you read this blog you’ve probably heard of it. It’s called Justice Reinvestment.

I encourage you to read the editorial and the Urban Institute report—or at least the portions of the report that describe the Justice Reinvestment experience in North Carolina (pages 93–96). For those of you who practice here, it’s interesting to see how an external group describes the collective effect of what you do each day. The report also acknowledges the difficulty of the transition in a way that I know many of you have experienced. See, e.g., Urban Institute report at 94 (“State leaders and stakeholders have decided that the original timeline for implementation was too ambitious.”)

Perhaps more importantly, these resources may give you an opportunity to step back from your day-to-day work and reflect on broader trends in criminal justice. If there is indeed an emerging scientific consensus about what works best in corrections, professional people doing a serious job probably want to know about it. Even if you disagree with it, you would want to be aware of it to the extent that it is shaping the law and the administrative policy of the agencies that carry it out.

If you want to read a closer-to-home review of North Carolina’s experience with Justice Reinvestment, I recently wrote an informal one for the True Bill, the newsletter of the Criminal Justice Section of the North Carolina Bar Association. You can find it here.