Academic journal article Justice System Journal

Day Reporting Centers in North Carolina: Implementation Lessons for Policymakers

Academic journal article Justice System Journal

Day Reporting Centers in North Carolina: Implementation Lessons for Policymakers

Article excerpt

Day Reporting Centers in North Carolina: Implementation Lessons for Policymakers*

The purpose of this article is to analyze the implementation of day reporting as a new intermediate sanction in North Carolina. This is accomplished by comparing the implementation experiences of two day reporting centers in Davidson and Guilford counties. From the early programmatic experiences (both positive and negative) of these centers, a series of "lessons learned" are offered for justice system policymakers who may be considering day reporting as a new element in a continuum of sanctions.

The North Carolina criminal justice system reached a breaking point in the late 1980s. The condition of the patient, while not terminal, was quite severe: "North Carolina's prison cells were full, but they held too many of the wrong people-nonviolent, low-priority felons. The sentencing system was variable and uneven. Offenders served very small portions of the sentences that judges imposed" (Wright, 1998:2). To remedy the situation, the North Carolina General Assembly created the North Carolina Sentencing and Policy Advisory Commission and charged it with formulating a long-term response to the state's prison capacity and sentencing concerns. Two landmark pieces of legislation emerged from the work of the sentencing commission in 1993. The first enactment initiated a major reworking of the state's sentencing laws. Under the new sentencing guidelines (popularly called Structured Sentencing), costly jail and prison resources were reserved for violent and repeat offenders. To ensure adequate space in secured facilities for these high-risk offenders, nonviolent offenders with little or no prior criminal history were diverted to noncustodial, community-based punishments.

The North Carolina State-County Criminal Justice Partnership Act (North Carolina General Statutes (sec)143B-273, et seq.), adopted as companion legislation to Structured Sentencing, created a state-funded grant program to foster the development of supplemental community-based corrections programs in the state's one hundred counties. The statute established two broad goals for programs funded under its provisions-to reduce offender recidivism and to lower criminal justice system costs. To qualify for the state subsidy, counties had to undertake an extensive self-study of the local criminal justice system and select a program from an approved list of intermediate sanctions. The list included programs that were already used in North Carolina, such as residential facilities and substance abuse services. The Partnership Act also permitted counties to experiment with interventions that were previously unavailable in North Carolina (i.e., restitution and day reporting centers). Many counties opted for the novel approach. In less than four years, North Carolina became home to forty day reporting centers (DRCs) with annual operating expenditures approaching $5.1 million.

To find the genesis of day reporting, one must look back over two decades before North Carolina's large-scale implementation of the concept. Two factors contributed to the development of day reporting in the United States. The British experience with probation day centers in the 1970s served as an early influence. The British day centers were used to monitor "chronic, but less serious offenders" who were often "imprisoned because the courts previously had tried all other options, including custodial sentences, to no avail" (Parent, 1990:77). A second influence had domestic origins. Several communities created day treatment programs to deliver a range of therapeutic services to atrisk youth and deinstitutionalized mental patients (Parent, 1990:2). Thus, the preconditions were in place for a major investment in day reporting-corrections systems overflowing with "less serious" offenders and some limited experience supervising and counseling clients on a daily basis. Over a ten-year period beginning in the mid-1980s, the number of day reporting centers in the United States grew from a handful of programs clustered in a few states to 114 programs in twenty-two states (Parent et al. …

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