From 2000 to 2008, the number of state prisoners in North Carolina increased 25 percent from 31,581 to 39,326, and corrections costs soared. During the same period, the Department of Correction budget increased 43 percent, from $918 million to more than $1.31 billion.
If existing policies remained in place, the North Carolina Sentencing and Policy Advisory Commission projected in 2009 that the prison population would increase by another 25 percent, or 10,000 inmates, by 2019. As a result, the Department of Correction would face a shortfall of about 8,500 beds by 2019 and state budget makers would need to find an additional $2 billion for prison construction and operations over the decade.
In 2009, Governor Beverly Perdue, Supreme Court Chief Justice Sarah Parker, Senate President Marc Basnight, Senate Minority Leader Phil Berger, House Speaker Joe Hackney, and House Minority Leader Paul Stam requested technical assistance from the Council of State Governments' Justice Center, a Pew partner, to help develop a statewide policy framework to strengthen its sentencing and corrections systems. Following a year-long process in which a bipartisan, inter-branch work group reviewed data and developed a legislative reform package, the Justice Reinvestment Act became law in June of 2011.
Passed unanimously in the North Carolina Senate and by a vote of 115-1 in the House, the Justice Reinvestment Act averts the need for new prisons and reinvests additional savings in strategies to improve public safety. The law creates a new habitual felon law for breaking and entering, expands post-release supervision to an additional 15,000 offenders, expands diversion programs for drug-involved offenders, and helps focus prison space on more serious offenders by using swift and certain sanctions for probation violations and limiting revocations for technical violations to 90 days in prison.
The Act averts the projected 1,400 increase in the prison population and reduces the population by more than 3,600 inmates, saving North Carolina more than $290 million over the next five years. At least $4 million of the savings will be reinvested annually in community-based programs aimed at reducing reoffense rates for high-risk offenders.