Legislators rally for prison alternatives

Staff WriterFebruary 26, 2009 

— At a time when state dollars are tight and prison space is limited, a group of state legislators got together Wednesday to advocate support of drug treatment and other rehabilitation programs to help offenders stay on the straight and narrow.

Sen. Ellie Kinnaird, a Democrat from Carrboro with a strong interest in community-based justice programs, organized the event as an attempt to dissuade her legislative colleagues and Gov. Beverly Perdue from cutting $20 million allocated for community corrections, sentencing assessments and other programs.

Throwing offenders in prison doesn't necessarily help them if underlying issues of addiction or other problems aren't addressed, Kinnaird said. She added that many prisoners find themselves back behind bars within a few years of their release.

"It's a waste of taxpayer money, it's a waste of lives, it's a danger to our community," Kinnaird said.

So far, of the $20 million listed by the group, the only money that has been formally targeted as a possible budget cut is $9.7 million for Criminal Justice Partnership Programs.

But that was listed only as an option by N.C. Department of Correction officials when Perdue asked the department to prepare for a worst-case funding scenario, said Keith Acree, department spokesman.

Much of the CJPP money goes to groups working with the state's probation system to rehabilitate offenders outside of prison walls, and losing the money would cause major problems in the N.C. Division of Community Corrections, officials there said. The state is also expecting to see a continual shortage of prison beds this year.

"We certainly did not recommend that as a cut at all," Acree said. "The department does not recommend this."

With Perdue still working on the budget, it's not clear whether any of the other programs mentioned at the news conference, including groups such as Durham-based Triangle Residential Options for Substance Abusers (TROSA), are at risk of losing state money.

sarah.ovaska@newsobserver.com or 829-4622.

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