Reduce NC Structured Sentencing Mandatory Minimums from 100% to 65% retroactive for all.
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We need to reform North Carolina’s rigid mandatory minimum sentencing scheme, one of the few remaining in the southeastern United States. The simple truth is that North Carolina incarcerates too many people, for too long, and for the wrong reasons, damaging families, harming communities, and deepened racial disparities in the criminal justice system. We need to end mandatory minimum sentences and three strikes laws that put people in prison for decades.
Mandatory 100% mandatory minimum prison sentence is extreme, unnecessary and certainly has little or no impact on improving society. There is a misguided reasoning that the interests of society are best served by imposing mandatory longer prison sentences with no possibility of early release for persons convicted of certain crimes. Parole in North Carolina is only an option for crimes committed before October 1, 1994. On that date a new state law, the North Carolina Structured Sentencing Act (N.C.S.S.A), went into effect. The law abolished parole, instituted mandatory minimum sentences, eliminated judicial discretion in sentencing, and made life without parole—or death—a mandatory sentence for first-degree murder. No life sentence was ever guaranteed parole, merely the possibility. Even for those who are still parole-eligible, the path to freedom is anything but certain.
North Carolina’s structured sentencing law modified the incentives for prison inmates to follow institutional rules by reducing an inmate’s capacity to earn sentencing reductions for good behavior. Inmates sentenced under the structured sentencing law pose more difficult prison management challenges than do inmates sentenced under the previous law. More than one-fifth of the correctional officer positions in North Carolina's 55 prisons are vacant, officials said. The understaffing affects daily operations, limits the ability of staff to take leave and attend training and hinders the delivery of programs to inmates. Just recently announced they would close three minimum-security prisons in the coming weeks to shore up staffing and improve safety at other prisons.
The structured sentencing law implemented in North Carolina made the management of the State’s prisons more difficult and more costly. Prisoner advocates have called attention to ongoing sentencing problems and poor prison conditions as creating the conditions of unrest. In addition, ongoing concern about the quality of food and limited programming has contributed to the unrest.
It is urgent that North Carolina’s elected officials, voters, and community leaders dramatically reduce our reliance on incarceration and invest instead in alternatives to prison, including common sense approaches that can break the cycle of crime and recidivism by helping people rebuild their lives. Decades spent putting thousands of people behind bars have not made North Carolina safer, but have instead ruined countless lives, wasted millions of taxpayer dollars, and devastated communities across our state, particularly those who are low-income and of color. It’s time for North Carolina to move away from the failed policies of mass incarceration and pursue a new vision of justice and safety.
N.C.S.S.A is Unfair:
Inmates who are sentenced using N.C.S.S.A guidelines, have ZERO % chance of an early release even if they exhibit GREAT behavior. N.C.S.S.A deprives individuals of a second chance and yet we boast of a constitution that advocates Second Chances. There are no second chances with N.C.S.S.A. There is no Good Time reduction available only the time required to be served for unconditional release from prison. Good behavior simply means you get to stay in prison without additional time. Earned time is the primary sentence reduction credit available to those sentenced under Structured Sentencing. Earned Time reduces only the maximum term of an offender’s sentence imposed by the court, and requires full time work and program activities, which are in themselves limited within the current overcrowded, highly understaffed prison system. An earlier law had allowed for parole-eligible life sentences, time off for good behavior, and indeterminate sentencing, but the N.C.S.S.A ended all of that with inflexible, punitive policies.
N.C.S.S.A creates a repeated cycle of crime and affects minorities the most:
As the saying goes, experience is the best teacher. Who better to teach their kids to stay away from the four-letter words “J.A.I.L.” than a reformed inmate? Yet that reformed Inmate will never get to teach their family, especially their kids who are the future generation to stay away from Jail, because N.C.S.S.A will block that chance. Statistics show that kids whose parents are incarcerated, have a higher chance of finding themselves incarcerated too. Yet our leaders are scratching their heads and wondering why incarceration is rising, while they continue to impose N.C.S.S.A. While N.C.S.S.A guidelines can be used for all, statistics show that N.C.S.S.A. affects minorities the most. North Carolina Prisons are swarmed with minority inmates who are serving extremely long sentences until the mandatory minimum time has been served irrespective of reformation. This is no justice.
N.C.S.S.A takes away Judicial discretion:
Judges' hands are tied, and they have no discretion to reduce a sentence below the mandatory time. The irony is that N.C.S.S.A guidelines not only restrict reformed inmates, but also restrict the Judges who set the sentence in the first place. It makes absolutely no sense. A proven safety valve is a smart-on-crime, state-tested, and state-approved way to reform North Carolina’s rigid mandatory minimum sentencing scheme, one of the few remaining in the southeastern United States.
This is not Smart Justice.
N.C.S.S.A. wastes taxpayers’ money:
Mandatory sentencing is expensive and costing taxpayers millions and millions of dollars every year. “The cost to house an inmate for one year is about $36,219," as report on NC DPS website. It’s now been several decades since states around the country began experimenting with criminal justice reform. Between 2007 and 2017, 34 states reduced both imprisonment and crime rates simultaneously, showing clearly that reducing mass incarceration does not come at the cost of public safety
Inmates sentenced under N.C.S.S.A pose more difficult prison management challenges, including low staff moral and extremely low inmate moral than it did the previous law. The structured sentencing law implemented in North Carolina made the management of the State’s prisons more difficult and more costly, punishment must never exclude the dimension of hope and the goal of rehabilitation.
It is clear that modifications in sentencing can have far reaching implications for prisons. It has been clearly demonstrated by other research that sentencing policies and practices have major impacts on the size of correctional populations. But the features of sentencing can also affect inmates' behavior while incarcerated, making the management of prisons more difficult and more costly. Future legislation should consider these effects as well as those impacting the need for bed space. The orderliness and safety of the prison environment can have negative consequences on inmates and staff that may be every bit as serious as overcrowding.
North Carolina is not among the states that have taken steps to reduce mandatory sentences. Incarceration in North Carolina is on the rise and millions of our dollars are spent to maintain N.C.S.S.A. It is time for change, it’s time to correct the North Carolina Judicial system. It’s time to modify N.C.S.S.A., by lowering the 100% minimum sentence to 65%, bring back Good Time reduction and expanding Earned time opportunities.
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