North Carolina Reaping the Benefits of Justice Reinvestment Act of 2011

Three Years After Reforms, State Showing Significant Criminal Justice Savings, Drop in Crime

RALEIGH, N.C.—Nov. 13, 2014—Three years after enacting comprehensive reforms to its criminal justice system, North Carolina is showing significant signs of success from its data-driven, “justice reinvestment” approach, according to a report released today by the Council of State Governments (CSG) Justice Center.

Passed in 2011, the Justice Reinvestment Act prompted dramatic changes through an approach designed to reduce corrections spending and reinvest savings in strategies that can reduce recidivism and improve public safety. According to the report, the state prison population has dropped by 8 percent since 2011 and is 11 percent lower than it was projected to be if the state had taken no action. The state has also closed 10 correctional facilities in the last three years, contributing to $560 million in projected savings and averted costs by 2017. During the same period, the state’s crime rate fell by 11 percent.

“The progress our state has made to reduce corrections costs while holding offenders more accountable for their behavior is nothing short of remarkable,” Gov. Pat McCrory said. “As governor, the budgets passed by this administration reflect a strong commitment to reinvesting in strategies that are proven to reduce recidivism and make our communities safer.”

Part of North Carolina’s success stems from an overhaul of its approach to a person’s release from prison. Prior to the reforms, an average of 15,000 people each year walked out of prison with no supervision. Today, those incarcerated for felony crimes are required to be supervised between nine and 12 months. The state has also reinvested its savings toward adding 175 probation and parole officers.

Those new officers are now also implementing a new strategy called “quick dips,” where minor violations of probation are met with a swift response of two to three days in jail, as opposed to immediately revoking probation and issuing a lengthier, more expensive, and less effective prison stay.

The project also prioritized investing savings in cognitive interventions and substance use treatment for individuals with the greatest need for treatment and who are at the highest risk of reoffending. Previously, resources for treatment had been spread across a wide variety people without consideration of risk levels, despite research showing that too much supervision or intensive resources could have a negative impact on low-risk individuals. Of the state’s total funding for treatment, 80 percent is now allocated for cognitive behavioral services in community-based programming.

The battery of changes has led to a whopping 50-percent drop in probation revocations since 2011.

“We knew that these reforms would take time to be implemented and show their true impact. We couldn’t be happier with the result,” said North Carolina Commissioner of Adult Correction and Juvenile Justice W. David Guice, who served as a key champion of the reforms as a state representative in 2011. “Now, we must maintain our commitment to reinvest in the resources that have helped strengthen probation supervision and build on that success.”

The reforms came at a critical time for North Carolina. In 2010, the number of people incarcerated in North Carolina state prisons had climbed to more than 40,000, up 27 percent since 2000. Meanwhile, corrections spending rose 49 percent (more than $1.3 billion) and the state projected the need for more than $500 million in additional spending by 2017 to accommodate expected prison growth.

But that troubling outlook took a dramatic U-turn after a bipartisan group of policymakers, corrections officials and law enforcement leaders worked with the CSG Justice Center to identify drivers of prison growth and recidivism.

“The encouraging results we’re seeing in North Carolina serve as a great example of the potential for legislators and policymakers to work together to achieve real, measureable improvement in a state’s criminal justice system,” said Michael D. Thompson, director of the CSG Justice Center.

Justice reinvestment is a strategy for criminal justice reform being adopted in states throughout the country. The CSG Justice Center has launched Justice Reinvestment projects in 21 states to date, helping each state design and implement its own reforms.

“States like North Carolina are debunking the myth that less imprisonment means more crime,” said Adam Gelb, director of The Pew Charitable Trusts’ public safety performance project. “State leaders are demonstrating that if you enact evidence-based reforms and follow through with solid implementation, you can achieve a true win-win: less crime at lower cost.”

In 2010, U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) launched the Justice Reinvestment Initiative (JRI) through funding appropriated by Congress in recognition of earlier successes of the justice reinvestment approach.

“North Carolina was one of the first sites accepted into JRI,” said BJA Director Denise O’Donnell. “By investing in the framework for reform through JRI, North Carolinians will experience the long-term cost savings and public safety benefits for years to come.”