North Carolina legislators say they are facing a no-win situation as they deal with a prison population that’s spiraling upward in tough times, the Raleigh News & Observer says. A state commission has offered five options for changes to state law that could eliminate the need for 5,600 prison beds over the next 10 years. They include reducing the impact of prior convictions on a person’s current penalty, cutting the minimum sentence for violent offenders by three months, and lowering sentences for nonviolent habitual felons.
Legislators face this dilemma, the newspaper says: Spending hundreds of millions of dollars on prisons and facing criticism for letting other needs go unmet, or reducing sentences and be labeled soft on crime.
Until yesterday, it looked as if the cell builders would win. But some House Finance Committee members, alarmed at a prison building provision in the Senate budget bill that would put the state $391 million deeper in debt, pushed for a closer look at revising sentencing laws to free up some beds. Projections show that the state will need to house more than 42,000 inmates by 2012. Three 1,000-bed prisons opening by the end of this year will only make a dent in the demand. Another 7,700 beds will still be needed.