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.
In a post here, I noted that under state law, counties, cities, towns, and metropolitan sewerage districts have authority to create crimes through local ordinances. This is a somewhat controversial issue. As I’ve noted, one of the arguments made in the national conversation about overcriminalization is that too many minor activities are made criminal and that it’s not efficient, effective, or fair to address this activity through the criminal justice system. It’s further asserted that many low-level crimes—such as panhandling and sleeping in public places—criminalize poverty and homelessness when those issues should be treated as social needs. In fact, at a panel discussion on overcriminalization at my recent NC Criminal Justice Summit, national and state experts from across the ideological spectrum weighed in on this issue, agreeing that creating a crime is a legislative function and should be done by state lawmakers, not local governments. Those panelists included Vikrant Reddy, Senior Fellow, Charles Koch Institute; Nathan Pysno, Director of Economic Crime and Procedural Justice, National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers; Tarrah Callahan, Executive Director, Conservatives for Criminal Justice Reform; and Mary Pollard, Executive Director, North Carolina Prisoner Legal Services and President, North Carolina Advocates for Justice. The 240 state leaders and stakeholders who attended the Summit echoed that sentiment. During live, anonymous polling during the session, attendees weighed in on three consensus reform proposals formulated by the panelists to address overcriminalization in North Carolina. One of those proposals was: Repeal code provision allowing local governments and administrative boards and bodies to create crimes. 75.72% of attendees supported that proposal, with 26.59% supporting it with caveats; 19.65% opposed it; and 4.62% were undecided.
In recent years my work at the School has shifted to focus on criminal justice policy. As I work in this area, several issues keep percolating up and capturing interest from a wide swath of judicial system stakeholders. Two such issues pertain to the “front end” of the justice system: overcriminalization and bail reform; two pertain to the “back end” of the system: fines and fees and the criminal record and collateral consequences. Of course, these issues aren’t just of interest in North Carolina—they are grabbing attention across the nation. I’m thus delighted to have the opportunity to explore all four of them at North Carolina’s first Criminal Justice Summit. At the Summit national and state experts with broad-ranging ideological perspectives will discuss these four issues, exploring how they impact justice, public safety and economic prosperity in North Carolina, and whether there is common ground to address them.