Smart Public Investments Can Ensure Access to Justice and Safety for All – North Carolina Justice Center


Over the past decade, North Carolina has chronically underfunded the state infrastructure, programs, and services that are essential to supporting every family and community in our state with the resources they need. In order to rebuild a fairer state, the North Carolina General Assembly must prioritize people over profitable businesses and make the public investments necessary to ensure that every North Carolina can prosper.

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Here is the story

The Justice Reinvestment Act, giving priority to reducing corrections costs and reinvesting savings, and the Juvenile Justice Reinvestment Act (or Raise the Age), ending the automatic pursuit of some minors into adulthood, both have the ultimate goal of reducing expenditures on correctional services. seeks to keep its residents safe, priority must be given to upfront investments in people’s well-being, coupled with smart investments in the criminal justice system and reintegration programs that provide the resources people need. need to succeed and avoid further involvement in the prison system.

This legislation allows for meaningful and proactive investments in rehabilitative alternatives to incarceration known to reduce recidivism and strengthen communities. Both pieces of legislation are promising; however, successful implementation depends on adequate funding.

The state has limited its investments in justice and public security in recent years. The amount of General Fund dollars going to the Department has declined, and reliance on criminal court fines and costs—and associated coercive collection tactics such as driver’s license suspensions—has increased.[1] However, additional funding would be more effective if used to support programs and services that actually prevent the criminalization of black and brown communities, help youth and adults avoid further interactions with the prison system, and help formerly incarcerated people to rebuild their lives.

In numbers

  • According to the Department of Public Safety, more than 22,000 people are released from state prison every year. [2]
  • The prison population decreased by 9.6% between the enactment of the JRA in 2011 and July 2015. This reduction alone saved the state $64 million.
  • In fiscal year 2015, the state saw an 18.6% drop in the probation revocation rate and a 57% decrease in the number of people failing supervision from the year before the promulgation of the JRA.
  • According to data received from the Court’s Administrative Office in January 2021, more than 322,000 North Carolinas have lost their driver’s license for non-payment of court fees.
  • During the first year of Raise the Age,[3] there was a 32% drop in admissions of minors to adult correctional facilities. [4]

Telling the impact story

In North Carolina, fines and fees are increasingly being used to fund the justice system and replace funds lost due to state income, estate, and corporate tax rate reductions. This financial regime discourages state investment in long-term solutions that prevent contact with the system and make it nearly impossible for people living in poverty to break free from the system once in it.

Tax changes that have come into effect over the past eight years have included reductions in personal income tax and the corporate tax rate, the elimination of the earned income tax credit, the enactment of an income tax cap and the expansion of the regressive sales tax. Meanwhile, over the past two decades, the fines and costs demanded of defendants and those convicted of a crime have risen and risen at an alarming rate, leading in some cases to imprisonment for default.

Most disturbing is the reality that a significant portion of the fines and fees collected are funneled into the North Carolina General Fund, replacing dollars lost in tax cuts – a particularly extreme form of regressive taxation. These fines and fees are disproportionately imposed on black and brown North Carolinians and function as an almost impossible barrier to exiting the system for North Carolinians living in poverty.

Reintegration programs remain underfunded, reducing their ability to support community safety and wellbeing goals despite the availability of funds through reinvestment. North Carolina passed the Justice Reinvestment Act in 2011 (HB 642), but invested most of the resulting $543,798,472 in savings in expanding post-release supervision and probation.[5] The missed opportunity to reinvest savings from moving away from mass incarceration has meant that too many reintegration programs remain underfunded and unable to fully support the successful reintegration of those released from prison into the state.

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[1] From 1999 to today, the amount of court fees has increased by 400% and the number of court fees has increased from 4 fees to 40 fees.


[3] North Carolina was the last state in the United States to end the automatic prosecution of minors aged 16 and 17 as adults when the General Assembly passed the Juvenile Justice Reinvestment Act (also known as of Raise the Age) in 2017. Accordingly, 16- and 17-year-olds charged with non-violent crimes on or after December 1, 2019 will be considered to be within the jurisdiction of the juvenile justice system, pursuant only to specific exceptions.

[4] According to the Department of Public Safety, about half of all young people involved in the juvenile system have a household member who is currently incarcerated or has a criminal record, making programs that help young people involved in the system to avoid interactions with the adult system.

[5] “Justice Reinvestment Initiative (JRI): North Carolina” (Urban Institute, March 6, 2020),


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