From 2000 to 2008, North Carolina’s prison population increased 25 percent from 31,581 to 39,326 inmates.i During that same period, the state corrections budget increased 43 percent, from $918 million to more than $1.31 billion.ii If existing policies remain unchanged, the Sentencing and Policy Advisory Commission projects that the prison population will increase by 25 percent, or 10,000 inmates, between 2009 and 2019.iii
The existing prison capacity is about 39,000 beds and the state estimates that it will face a shortfall of about 8,500 beds by FY 2019.iv Building and operating these new prison beds will cost more than $2 billion between FY 2012 and FY 2019.v Construction costs alone will approach $775 million between FY 2012 and FY 2019, with one third of this spending needed by FY 2012.vi
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 to help develop a statewide policy framework to reduce spending on corrections and reallocate funds to strategies that would produce a greater public safety return for each dollar spent. It is anticipated that the framework will be completed in time for policymakers to during the 2011 legislative session.
The John Locke Foundation, the state’s think tank that supports approaches that limit government and promote free markets, has recommended in its “Agenda 2010” that lawmakers “maintain North Carolina’s commitment to fighting crime while reserving prison for violent and repeat offenders” and “divert mentally ill individuals into community-based care rather than jails, starting with crisis intervention teams and other pre-booking interventions.”vii
i North Carolina Profile, Council of State Governments Justice Center, Justice Reinvestment, http://justicereinvestment.org/states/north_carolina.
vii Agenda 2010 – Crime & Punishment, The John Locke Foundation, http://www.johnlocke.org/agenda2010/crimeandpunishment.html.