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North Carolina's Prison Population Cap: How Has It Affected Prisons and Crime Rates?

NCJ Number
S H Clarke
Date Published
27 pages
During the 1980's, North Carolina adopted legislation to limit the growth of its prison population, and this article looks at how the legislation has affected the prison population and whether it has increased crime.
North Carolina adopted legislation in 1987 that set a cap on the number of prisoners. The cap was originally set at 17,460 but was gradually raised as new prison facilities were built, reaching 20,594 by mid-1992. The cap was intended to be an emergency response to a pressing problem, not a long-term policy. Nonetheless, the cap was still in existence in 1992. The legislation provides that when the prison population reaches 98 percent of the cap for 15 consecutive days, enough prisoners legally eligible for parole must be paroled so that the population is reduced to 97 percent of the cap within 60 days. From 1984 to 1989, the cap slowed the growth of the prison population. This slowed growth did not contribute substantially to increased crime rates. Rather, increased crime seemed to be the result of differential improvements in law enforcement and crime investigation; changes in crime reporting by victims; and demographic, social, and economic changes. After 1989, North Carolina appeared to be returning to its former pattern of rapid prison population growth. Data on violent index crimes and property index crimes are provided. 45 footnotes and 9 figures


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