North Carolina provides example for federal sentencing reform

Federal sentencing reform currently under debate could be based on similar reforms in North Carolina.

As lawmakers in the U.S. Congress continue to iron out the details of what could be significant mandatory sentencing reform, they may be getting some help by looking at similar changes that were passed in North Carolina five years ago, according to the News & Observer. In 2011, North Carolina lawmakers passed sentencing reform legislation that was designed to keep young offenders out of prison, reduce recidivism rates, and tackle the state's growing levels of incarceration. The success of those measures could help with a current federal proposal that targets sentencing reform for primarily non-violent drug offenses and which aims at achieving similar reductions in inmates and recidivism in the federal prison system.

North Carolina success

The 2011 North Carolina legislation was focused on keeping young offenders from returning to state prisons. By emphasizing rehabilitation programs rather than incarceration, the legislation contributed to significant public safety improvements. Among them are a 14 percent decrease in recidivism, a 50 percent decline in probation revocations, and a decrease in overall crime in North Carolina since 2011 of 11 percent. While all of those improvements cannot be attributed solely to sentencing reform, legal experts say the reforms were likely a contributing factor.

Additionally, the reforms led to big savings for the state's taxpayers. The North Carolina Department of Public Safety, for example, says that the 2011 reforms have led to $560 million in savings. Meanwhile, the state prison population has declined from a projected 43,000 to 35,000, which has allowed the state to close 10 prisons.

Federal sentencing reform

Sentencing reform that has taken place in North Carolina and in numerous other states in recent years is now playing out on the federal level. The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act, which is currently making its way through the U.S. Congress, would reduce mandatory minimum sentences for many non-violent offenders in the federal prison system, particularly for those convicted of low-level drug offenses. It would also give judges more discretion in tailoring sentences that better fit the crime.

As The Hill reports, the bill's proponents, who include lawmakers from both parties, point to the fact that federal prisons are already 23 percent over capacity and are responsible for a quarter of the U.S. Department of Justice's total budget. They also point out that violent offenders make up less than half of the current federal inmate population and that a quarter of inmates are serving time in federal prison based on their first conviction.

Criminal defense

For anybody who is facing a criminal charge, whether at the federal, state or local level, it is important to reach out to a criminal defense attorney immediately. An experienced defense attorney can help those who have been accused of a crime, including by advising them on how to respond to the charges against them and how to protect their rights.