Proposed Changes to Sentencing Laws

With the growing prison population and the shrinking budget, there’s some talk of changes to North Carolina’s sentencing laws. An article in the paper last week made general reference to sentencing alternatives proposed by the Sentencing and Policy Advisory Commission. I thought people might be interested in knowing a little more about the specifics of those proposals.

In 2001, the General Assembly asked the Sentencing Commission to “study and review the State’s sentencing laws in view of the projected growth in the prison population by 2010” and “develop alternatives that appropriately penalize offenders . . . while identifying inconsistencies in the structured sentencing law or in its application.” S.L. 2001-424. The alternatives set out in the report included:

  • Punishing habitual felons three classes higher than the offense classification of the substantive offense, but in no case higher than Class C.
  • Including defendants with one or perhaps two prior record points in Prior Record Level I.
  • Making the increase in sentence lengths between prior record levels proportionate by using a set percentage increment (15%).
  • Reallocating three months from the minimum sentences of Class B1 through E felonies to the maximum, while increasing the period of post release supervision from nine months to twelve months.

At the time they were proposed, the alternatives would have resulted in about 5,500 fewer prison beds needed in the 10 years after enactment. I’m not sure how many beds they would save if enacted today, but it appears they alone wouldn’t quite bridge the projected shortfall of about 7,000 beds by 2018.

I’m curious to know what people think of the proposed alternatives. There are those who say you can’t build your way out of a prison bed shortage, and tinkering with the grid is a political football. We already started to see a limited reemergence of parole last year, with new early release programs for the terminally ill and disabled and for certain deportable inmates. Let us know what you think.