Pubdate: Tue, 30 Dec 2003
Source: Shelby Star, The (NC)
Copyright: 2003sThe Shelby Star
Note: This editorial is being circulated among several Freedom Press papers
in N.C.
Bookmark: (Mandatory Minimum Sentencing)
Bookmark: (Incarceration)


It seems that North Carolina is barely able to build prisons fast
enough to meet the demands of an increasing prison population.

Two new 1,000-bed prisons just opened and another one should be ready
to receive inmates by the spring. And plans are already under way to
build and open three more such prisons over the next couple of years
or so.

All that construction and the hundreds of millions that will be spent
in building them - we don't want to house inmates in cells with shoddy
construction, after all - is projected to meet the state's prison
population needs through 2007.

With the demands for prison space growing, state lawmakers will either
have to pony up the money for even more prisons, revise North Carolina
sentencing laws or do a combination of the two.

We'd recommend revising the sentencing laws.

In recommending a change in sentencing laws, let's make it clear that
we are not suggesting that we go easy on violent criminals. Quite the
contrary, we believe that tougher penalties for violent criminals are
major factors in the drop in the crime rate that we've enjoyed.

It doesn't make sense, however, to sentence non-violent felons to long
terms in prison that are normally reserved for those who commit only
the most serious, violent crimes.

Unfortunately, that can be a result of the state's habitual felon

For example, the way the law is currently written, a person with three
previous felony convictions who is found guilty of possessing tools
for counterfeiting could end up serving 17 years in prison.

A proposed change in the state's habitual felon law would result in
less time being served by non-violent, less-serious criminals while
retaining the longer, harsher sentences for those who deserve them -
people convicted of violent, more-serious felonies.

Another change that could help relates to a recent ruling by N.C.
Court of Appeals, which clarifies the status of possession of cocaine
as a misdemeanor. Until recently, many courts had treated it as a
felony for habitual felon law purposes, even though state law lists it
as a misdemeanor.

Already there is talk among lawmakers of changing the law if the Court
of Appeals ruling stands. We'd recommend that lawmakers not try to
change the law and instead concentrate on making sure that there is
space to incarcerate our most violent offenders.

Serious crimes deserve serious punishment. Lesser crimes deserve
lesser punishment. We hope the General Assembly keeps that in mind as
it goes about finding ways to make sure that violent criminals remain
behind bars.
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MAP posted-by: Larry Seguin