Pubdate: Mon, 01 Mar 2004
Source: News & Observer (NC)
Copyright: 2004 The News and Observer Publishing Company
Author: LaFonda Jones


I was pleased to read the Feb. 16 article outlining North Carolina's 
overcrowded-prison problem and possible solutions. As the article 
illustrated, our state is at a crossroads: we can either continue to build 
costly new prisons at the expense of vital social services like schools and 
hospitals, or we can implement sensible sentencing options that ease the 
demand for dollars and prison beds while maintaining public safety. Two 
years ago, a bipartisan commission including law enforcement, policymakers 
and experts outlined modest sentencing reforms that would dramatically 
impact prison space. For example, reforming the habitual offender statute 
to lessen sentences for the lowest-level, nonviolent offenders would save 
the state 1,763 beds over the next decades -- or approximately 2.5 prisons. 
As someone who works with families of incarcerated North Carolinians, I am 
all too familiar with the waste and senselessness of the current habitual 
felon law. Although the law was intended to put away the most serious 
offenders, the majority of people are convicted as habitual offenders for a 
having a history of minor, nonviolent offenses like drug possession or theft.

People who break the law should be held accountable, but the punishment 
needs to fit the crime. North Carolina has already taken the time to put 
together sensible reforms. Now is the time to implement those common sense 
recommendations and free up precious resources for programs that need them.

LaFonda Jones

N.C. Project Director, Families Against Mandatory Minimums

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