State Support for Justice & Public Safety
Justice & Public Safety (JPS) makes up about 10 percent of the General Fund operating budget. The single biggest expenditure is the prison system. Between FY 2004-05 and FY 2008-09, the JPS budget grew by 33 percent and roughly 2,400 positions.
Crime Trends: 2004-2007
- 9% increase in annual number of violent crimes to reach 42,000
- 4% increase in violent crime rate to reach 480 violent crimes per 100,000 people
- Three-fourths of all crimes and half of violent crimes are unsolved annually (no change)
- Annual gap between the number of felony cases opened and closed increases from 1% to 5%, increasing the court’s backlog.
- 2004-2008: Slight decrease in felons and misdemeanants on probation or parole to total 117,000 – mostly probationers (113,000)
- 2004-2008: 12% increase in state prison population to reach more than 39,000
- 2004-2008: 61% increase in registered sex offenders to reach approximately 14,000
Funding & Operational Issues
- 2006: The Governor’s Crime Commission releases a report, Criminal Justice Funding in North Carolina: A System in Crisis, which states, “While criminal justice funding has dropped, the workload or activity of the system has risen.”
- 2007: The Division of Community Corrections (DCC) begins implementing a risk assessment tool to determine the appropriate level of supervision for each probationer, as recommended in 2004 by the National Institute of Corrections (NIC).
- 2008: UNC student Eve Carson is murdered. The two suspects arrested were on probation at the time of the crime and had been arrested for other crimes while on probation. Significant problems are found in oversight, training, and operations in probation offices in Durham and Wake counties. Lack of communication between the court, law enforcement, and probation computer systems is a contributing factor.
- 2008: Upon legislative request, the NIC is again called in to provide technical assistance. The 2008 budget includes a reserve to implement the NIC’s recommendations and funds for a county pilot program to link court, probation, and law enforcement computer systems. The final NIC report – released in September – finds the need for better screening, more training, and better caseload distribution. As in 2004, NIC finds that low salaries for probation officers contribute to high turnover, extended vacancies, and the number of officers who hold secondary jobs.
- 2005 – 2008: The N.C. General Assembly approves special indebtedness to expand prisons and new legislation that will require more prison beds. With these expansions and the new legislation, 2008 projections indicate a prison bed deficit of 885 beds, which will grow to nearly 6,000 beds – nearly six new prisons – by 2017.
- 2008: The General Assembly passes legislation to permit early release from prison for terminally ill, nonviolent offenders (S 1480) and illegal immigrant nonviolent offenders (S 1955) (the latter will be deported).
- 2005: Nine-year-old Jessica Lunsford is abducted, raped, and murdered in Florida. A registered sex offender is arrested and confesses to the crime. Florida passes “Jessica’s Law,” tightening registration requirements for sex offenders and penalizing molestation or rape of a child with life in prison or 25 years in prison and lifetime satellite monitoring.
- 2005: The N.C. Department of Correction uses federal grant funds to set up a pilot program to monitor sex and domestic violence offenders via satellite (GPS monitoring). The NCGA passes a law (H 1517) preventing registered sex offenders from babysitting.
- 2006: 15 states pass laws requiring minimum 25-year to life sentences for certain sex offenders. The Jessica Lunsford Act for NC (H 1921) is introduced but does not pass. The N.C. General Assembly creates a satellite monitoring program for the worst sex offenders, joining at least 14 other states with lifetime satellite monitoring, but does not increase penalties for child rape or molestation. The legislation (H 1896) also removes the automatic deletion of sex offenders from the registry after 10 years, strengthens registration requirements, and places residential restrictions on sex offenders.
- 2008: Some registered sex offenders sue to be released from satellite monitoring requirements. N.C. judges order their release because the monitoring law was passed after the offenders committed their crimes. By May, 29 offenders have GPS monitors removed.
- 2008: The N.C. Legislature passes legislation increasing penalties for sexually exploiting or raping a child, but not for molesting a child. The minimum sentence for raping a child increases from 16 years to 25 years plus lifetime monitoring (maximum increases to life in prison). The maximum penalty for a first-time offender who molests a child remains 2 years in prison or a probation-based sentence. The Legislature also bans certain sex offenders from public areas designed for children and social networking websites used by minors. (See H 933, S 132, S 1736)
- 2005: Reversing a 1989 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court rules the execution of juvenile offenders (under 18 at the time of their crime) to be unconstitutional.
- 2006: Challenges to lethal injection arise in 14 states, including North Carolina. New Jersey imposes a moratorium on the death penalty.
- 2006: Due to concerns about improper administration causing pain and suffering during execution by lethal injection, a federal judge rules that N.C. must have a physician present at executions to monitor for vital signs. In response, the N.C. Council of State approves a new protocol requiring a physician monitor the execution.
- 2007: The N.C. Medical Board states that it is unethical for physicians to participate in the conduct of an execution, and it will sanction any physician who participates. The N.C. Dept. of Correction files suit, alleging that executions are not under the jurisdiction of the board.
- 2007: Bills are filed in the state Legislature to (1) overturn the Medical Board’s policy (S 114) and (2) impose a moratorium on the death penalty while lethal injection is studied (S 89). Neither bill passes.
- Sept. 2007: The U.S. Supreme Court accepts the Kentucky case Baze and Bowling v. Rees, which challenges the three-drug cocktail method of lethal injection used by many states, including North Carolina. The justices put executions on hold.
- Apr. 2008: The Court rules that Kentucky’s method of lethal injection, which uses a three drug cocktail and prevents a physician from participating in the process, is Constitutional.
- May – Sept. 2008: 7 states perform executions; another 4 states schedule executions.
- June 2008: In a 5-4 ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court overturns laws in Louisiana and five other states that authorize punishing child rape with the death penalty.
- Oct. 2008: The de facto moratorium on the death penalty due to court rulings and conflicts between Medical Board and Council of State policies remains in effect in North Carolina.
- 2005: The American Journal of Public Health publishes an article identifying homicide as a leading cause of death among pregnant women. Between 1991 and 1999, at least 127 and possibly more than 200 pregnant women were murdered.
- 2006 – 2008: The murders of four pregnant women in N.C., including two in the military, capture media attention: Michelle Young (4 mos. pregnant, Raleigh, 2006), Lance Corporal Maria Lauterbach (8 mos., Camp Lejeune, 2007), Jennifer Nielsen (8 mos., Raleigh, 2008), and Army Specialist Megan Touma (7 mos., Fayetteville, 2008).
- Legislation from 2003 is re-introduced in the N.C. General Assembly in 2005 (S 200/H 1324) and again in 2007 (S 295/H 263) to charge someone who murders a pregnant woman with two crimes – one against the mother and one against the unborn child. No law passes.
- DWI: Following an August 2004 series by the Charlotte Observer on low conviction rates for Driving While Intoxicated (DWI) offenses, the Governor appointed a DWI Task Force. The Task Force’s recommendations are introduced as legislation in the 2005 session and, after much discussion and revision, pass in 2006 (H 1048).
- Gangs: Between 2005 and 2007, $6.8 million is provided for grants for gang prevention and intervention. Legislation first introduced in 2003 is re-introduced in the next two sessions, amended, and finally passed in 2008 (H 274). The new law punishes gang-related crimes more harshly, if those crimes are committed by gang members at least 16 years old (or 15 in select circumstances). It allows former gang members who were not gang leaders to have their criminal records expunged. It does not affect gang members under 15.