What are we advocating for?

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WITHOUT REFORM, NORTH CAROLINA’S PRISON POPULATION IS PROJECTED TO KEEP CLIMBING, AT A HIGH COST TO NORTH CAROLINA TAXPAYERS, COMMUNITIES AND FAMILIES.

Pathway 2 Hope is supporting smart reforms that collectively will reduce North Carolina’s prison population by 24 percent by 2024, save an eye-popping $860 million while improving public safety. Without the incentive of reentering society, incarcerated people are more likely to act out in prisons, and our state’s prisons will continue to be among the most dangerous for incarcerated people and guards in the country.

The way we do imprisonment in America also flies in the face of what research says about how to get people to reform their behavior and become contributing members of society. Think about people leaving prison with a felony record. They can’t get housing, they can’t get school loans, and they have a scarlet letter that prevents them from getting a job. And then we’re surprised when they steal lawnmowers or sell drugs to get by?

Prisons should be model centers of therapeutic service delivery. If they’re not that, then they’re not doing what they should be doing to keep us safe. We talk about numbers, but at the end of the process it’s not a number that’s getting the sentence. It’s a person, a person with a family from a community.

Pathway 2 Hope recommends several solutions to make North Carolina Department of Corrections system safer by seeking to reshape North Carolina’s tough-on-crime laws from the 1990s. Over the last decade or so, legislators across the country have learned that this was a mistake and have recently been working on reversing our mass incarceration issues. The 1994 legislation also effectively eliminated the state’s parole system. Inmates who are sentenced using North Carolina Structured Sentencing guidelines, have ZERO% chance of an early release even if they exhibit GREAT behavior. Under the law, every person sentenced to prison in North Carolina must serve at LEAST 100% of their minimal sentence.

North Carolina Structured Sentencing Act deprives individuals of a second chance and comes at a high cost to the people of North Carolina. These guidelines are a gross injustice causing thousands to be over sentenced. Intended to “reduce crime” they’ve been grossly unsuccessful and most state have already made these changes, while North Carolina is the last of the southern state to take even the first step towards reform. Lawmakers must incentive good behavior by allowing early release initiatives, authorize retroactively. We can alleviate the madness of mass-incarceration by reinstating good time across the board for every offender.

North Carolina’s criminal code includes harsh sentencing laws that can trigger long prison sentences and mandate prison time for people who would otherwise be eligible for probation or other alternatives to prison.

For example, under a policy known as the “Habitual Offender Law,” a person convicted of three or more felony offenses is automatically sentenced at a felony class that is four levels above the actual offense they were convicted for, adding years to their prison sentence. Further, if a person is convicted of more than one violent felony — defined as any Class A through Class E felony, which includes crimes ranging from murder to arson — judges are required to hand down a sentence of life without the possibility of parole.

Percent of Active Sentence Served: The projections in 2019 assume that, on average, all SSA felons will serve 108% of their minimum active sentences. The percentage of sentence served varies by offense class with prisoners in the more serious offense classes serving a lower percentage of their maximum sentence since they have the potential to accrue more earned time due to their longer sentence lengths (e.g., 101% for Class C, 115% for Class I). The maximum sentence length is set at 120% of the minimum sentence length rounded to the next highest month plus the period of PRS.

  • Class A through D felonies account for over half of the projected prison population (53%) but represent only 7% of felony convictions and 19% of active sentences overall.
  • Class H through Class I felonies (the least serious felony offenses), which account for the majority of felony convictions (64%) and active sentences (45%), only account for 20% of the projected prison population due to their lower rate of active sentences (27%) and shorter time served (an average of 10 months).

Data shows that people released in 2016 after serving structured felony sentences served 53.9 percent more time on average than people serving structured felony sentences released in 2006.

  • 71 percent of screened people who are incarcerated reported having a substance use disorder requiring intermediate or long-term treatment.
  • North Carolina’s prison population is also rapidly aging, due in part to an increase in the average amount of time served. The prison population age 50 and older more than doubled a 104.8 percent increase — between 2006 and 2016.
REDUCE UNNECESSARY PRISON TERMS
  • Reducing the percentage of sentences that must be served before inmates are eligible for parole
    • Reduce mandatory minimums from 100% to 65% for those sentenced under structured sentencing for all individuals. Restore hope to incarcerated persons.
  • Expanding opportunities for inmates to earn time off of their sentences by completing programs.
    • Reestablish good behavior and works credits to address sentence lengths. If there’s no opportunity to use time credited for good behavior, incentive is gone. What it does is, it takes away the hope.
      • Credits for parole eligibility are granted in other states and have been boosted through the recent federal legislation known as the First Step Act
      • Mississippi lawmakers recently reduced their truth-in-sentencing provision from 85% to 50% offenders. South Carolina is currently reviewing a further lowing of 85% to 65%
      • This measure adjusts our states sentencing structure and aligns North Carolina to states like South Carolina, Georgia, Mississippi, Missouri and Louisiana.
  • Retroactively expand parole eligibility for nonviolent offenders
  • Allow for “Second Look” review policy for any prisoner who has served 15 or more years. The nonpartisan American Law Institute recommends a fair review of persons sentenced to long prison terms to decide whether, under present circumstances, the sentence originally imposed, or a different sentence better serves the purposes of sentencing.

ENSURE FAIRNESS IN OUR COURTS

  • Define possession with intent to distribute to end overcharging for drug possession
  • Allow judges discretion to impose sentences other than the mandatory minimum prison term in some cases.
  • Limit powerful sentence enhancements for people who have only been convicted of non-violent crimes
  • Institute speedy trial rights
    • There is no statutory right to a speedy trial, and the constitutional protection of that right is fairly anemic as interpreted by case law.
    • Grant defendants an initial appearance within 48 hours of arrest, with a guarantee of counsel, appropriate bail and determination of ability to pay, plus other determinations.
    • Present defendants with discovery of evidence within 20 days of the discovery request.
  • Institute State Wise Criminal Trial Court Administrative rules and regulations
    • There is generally no impartial “trial court administrator” in criminal cases in most districts in North Carolina who is responsible for creating calendars in the way that this is done in civil court.The combined effect of prosecutorial docket control and lack of speedy trial pressure creates an environment where weaker cases languish on the trial dockets (among other negative results).
      • With NC superior court judge rotations, no judge is likely to be in a given district long enough to effectively utilize this provision.There is little room in chapter 7A for anyone other than the district attorney to control which cases are placed on a particular calendar.
  • End pretrial detention for misdemeanor and non-violent felony charges, with certain exceptions, so that people don’t lose their jobs while locked up for a crime for which they have not even been convicted.
  • Stop injustice against mothers for failure to protect from child abuse by preventing parents who committed no abuse from receiving longer sentences than abusers.
  • Creates a task force to reevaluate North Carolina’s entire criminal punishment code, and whether the set punishments fit the crime.

IMPROVE COMMUNITY REENTRY PROGRAMS – PAROLE /PROBATION

Despite growing evidence and a broad consensus that the period immediately following release from prison is critical for preventing recidivism, a large and increasing number of offenders are maxing out—serving their entire sentences behind bars—and returning to their communities without supervision or support. These inmates do not have any legal conditions imposed on them, are not monitored by parole or probation officers, and do not receive the assistance that can help them lead crime-free lives. Only when we take a more active role in reentry, will the system start to fulfill its rehabilitative functions, rather than simply be an instrument of punishment and despair.

  • Improves and enhances release and re-entry practices by instituting comprehensive case planning, streamlining parole practices, and expanding geriatric parole to inmates 60 and older.
    • Easing the struggle of getting an ID
    • Provide bus/transit passes for indigent releasees
  • Expand use of evidence-proven supervision and recidivism-reduction practices that are in line with national standards, including limiting the time a person spends behind bars for violating the rules of supervision.
    • Technical violations of conditions of supervision include, for example, missing appointments, curfew violations, and positive drug screens.
  • Parole & Probation supervision should focus on strengthening ties between individuals on parole and their communities.
    • Elimination “technical violations” that represent no threat to public safety and may simply indicate that a person on parole needs more assistance, or less stringent rules, not more incarceration.
    • Stop putting parolees behind bars for behaviors that, were the individual not on parole, would not warrant prison time.
    • “Front-load” supervision resources immediately after release, when individuals released from prison are most likely to need support
    • Tailor conditions to individual parolees instead of using boiler-plate language intended to cover every possible situation
  • Ban the Box
    • The “box” is that spot on many employment applications that asks whether the applicant has been convicted of a crime or been incarcerated.
    • A Ban-the-Box ordinance would remove these questions from the application at the initial stage of the employment process so the hiring authority will first get an opportunity to learn about the candidate’s experience, skills, and personality as they relate to the position to be filled
  • Max-out rates vary widely by state: More than 40 percent of inmates maxed out their prison terms and left without supervision in Florida, Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Utah.

IMPROVE PRISON CONDITIONS

  • Fully fund any programs in which participation can result in receiving good time. For example, if drug treatment or educational classes make someone eligible for additional good time credits, there should not be a significant waiting list.
  • Avoid the common pitfall of restricting valuable rehabilitative programs to only those close to release and low-risk and justifying those restrictions by pointing to lean budgets. This runs contrary to best practices, which say that targeting high-risk offenders for intensive levels of treatment and services has the greatest effect on recidivism, and low-risk inmates should receive minimal or even no intervention.
  • Grant additional good time to people who are physically or mentally unable to take advantage of a program that gives good time.
    • Many incarcerated people are mentally or physically incapable of engaging in programs, and anyone in that category should be awarded the maximum offered to those who can engage in programs.
  • Allow good time to be forfeited only for serious rule and law violations and allow forfeited good time to be restored.
    • Finally, not allow one incident to result in a loss of good-time accrued over years, by vesting earned good-time after a certain period. We again rely on the Model Penal Code, which suggests good-time credits earned over five years be vested and untouchable.
  • We need to take a close look at what contributes to violence in our prisons and how our prisons can heal following recent tragic events, overcrowding and prison understaffing issues. We know that prison violence links persons together through a network of victims and offenders.
    • NC Department of Public Safety should not place restrictions on prisoner’s ability to receive funds from the outside, especially since they haven’t raised their incarcerated employee’s wages or found a way to employ and financially support more of their incarcerated population.
    • Restricting inmates’ ability to receive funds is detrimental to the entire prison population
    • Remarkable solutions to end prison violence are found in ensuring humane living conditions, supporting rehabilitative programming that includes education and anti-violence initiatives, and programming incentives for incarcerated persons.
  • Promote and Support Family ties, even prison officials conceded that the visits were a deterrent to unruly behavior among prisoners. Conjugal visits are a privilege, so in that sense, it has, helped to maintain order
    • Reinstate Conjugal/Family visits or extended visits, good prison behavior is a prerequisite, and inmates convicted of sex crimes or domestic violence, or who have life sentences, are excluded.Research supporting conjugal visits indicates that allowing inmates to spend time with partners and loved ones strengthens family bonds, reduces violence, and creates safer prison environments for inmates.
  • Promote & Protect normal sexual orientation – with the changes of normalizing same sex and In conflict with Prison Rape Elimination Act, we now have LBGTQ male inmates in male prisons who are allowed to take hormone medicine, order bras and makeup on the state canteen system, but not allowed heterosexual men to receive or have illicit picture of woman including their own wives

BETTER INFORM FUTURE POLICYMAKING

  • Improve collection and release of data on courts, prosecutors, jails, policing and prisons.
  • Require community impact statements be prepared for future criminal justice legislation
  • Visit the prisons. Members of the House and Senate Judiciary Committees must visit each level of prison in the system to speak with incarcerated residents and observe the conditions of these state facilities.

Pathway 2 Hope provides support for both short- and long-term individuals who are incarcerated by advocating for changes within North Carolina legislation and policy changes within North Carolina Department of Corrections.

We invite North Carolina officials to work with us to make all of our communities safer.

Let’s push our lawmakers to change these harsh sentencing statutes and reunite our families.

Pathway 2 Hope