Tuesday, June 26, 2012

North Carolina Justice Reinvestment Unfunded

Department of Public Safety says it needs 249 new positions

Last year North Carolina's governor and legislators from both parties came together for the Justice Reinvestment Act, the first sweeping revision of sentencing laws in the state in nearly two decades.

The theory behind the JRI was that more intensive supervision of offenders who had been released into the community would prevent them from returning to prison. Eventually, that approach was supposed to save the state the cost of building more prisons, and make everyone safer, according to The News and Observer.

But for all the fanfare about the cutting-edge crime-fighting plan, lawmakers left out one key ingredient: money. No funding has been set aside in either the initial House or Senate versions of the budget to pay for probation officers to supervise the newly released prisoners.

According to The News and Observer, improving probation officers’ caseloads was one of the reforms that followed the 2008 slaying of UNC-Chapel Hill student by two men who were on probation but poorly monitored. Yet improvement since has been slow, and the few gains in easing caseloads could suffer a serious setback if money isn’t found.

An estimated 15,000 offenders are expected to become the responsibility of state probation officers by next year. The state Department of Public Safety says it needs 249 new positions to handle that job, at a cost of about $13 million.

The Justice Reinvestment Act recommends each probation officer handle no more than 60 offenders. Currently, the average is 80 offenders for each officer. The statewide average caseload in 2008 was 68.

Probation officers are handling about 14 percent of the convicted felons released from prison. Under the new law, which took effect Dec. 1, they are responsible for all felons for at least nine months.

Without more probation officers, caseloads could soar.

The state Department of Public Safety says it made it clear to the Legislature last year that a substantial increase in resources for community supervision would be required. Its officials are working closely with legislative leaders in hopes of finding the money, a spokeswoman says.

“They’re going to need some more,” Rep. LeoDaughtry, chairman of the justice and public appropriations committee, said. “We’re trying to find a way to get them the money to make it work. … If I had the money I would give it to them.”

To read more here: http://www.newsobserver.com/2012/06/19/2147977/states-new-probation-law-goes.html#storylink=cpy

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