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Ohio and North Carolina Move Forward with Justice Reinvestment Bills

| July 25, 2011

Politicians from both ends of the political spectrum in North Carolina and Ohio recently enacted comprehensive legislation in their states resulting from justice reinvestment initiatives, according to the Justice Reinvestment Project’s blog.  Both states’ bills will increase public safety and reduce crime by changing probation, extending serious violent crime sentences, and expanding sentencing options for first-time and nonviolent offenders.

North Carolina established structured sentencing seventeen years ago, and has since been a model for prison capacity management.  In recent years, however, probation revocations are on the rise, and a number of sentence enhancements have passed which have placed great strain on the corrections system.  Projections estimate that the prison population could grow by 10% by 2020.

In response, a group of nonprofit policy organizations led by the Council of State Governments (CSG) Justice Center (of which the Justice Reinvestment Project is a subsidiary) allied with the governor and a number of other legislative leaders to analyze justice reinvestment approaches to reduce spending and increase public safety.

The reports found that 15% of released prisoners were released with supervision, most offenders completed their sentences in prison, and high-risk offenders frequently returned to the community unsupervised.  Furthermore, community treatment programs were not being properly targeted to those who would benefit the most from such services.

The Justice Reinvestment Act passed with near-unanimous support, and was signed into law June 23rd of this year.  The details of the law are found on the North Carolina Assembly’s website. The law will change probation significantly, assessing penalties for rule breakers, and closing up a number of loopholes.  The law also focuses community-based treatment programs on those who need them most, and it expands drug diversion programs.

Ohio passed a justice reinvestment package in 2008, when their prisons were at 133% capacity.  Like North Carolina, Ohio looked to the CSG Justice Center, which recommended a 13-point policy framework to the legislature.  This framework was consolidated along with a number of other reforms into House Bill 86, which Right On Crime previously discussed here.

Ohio hopes to save around $46 million by 2015, while greatly increasing public safety.  North Carolina is projected to save $290 million over six years while also seeing a drop in its crime rate.