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Focus on North Carolina early-release parole program

As has been widely noted in the media over the past year-plus, a growing national discontent has prominently surfaced regarding long-time American criminal law policies. A legion of critics spanning virtually the entire political spectrum has consistently weighed in with viewpoints that disparage various aspects of the criminal justice system on both the federal and state levels.

Centrally pointed to by many would-be reformers are so-called "mandatory minimum" sentencing guidelines and the exceedingly long prison terms they often dictate for offenders. What has drawn special concern is the high number of first-time and nonviolent offenders who have been convicted of arguably minor drug crimes and now reside behind bars, with their sentencing outcomes intended to keep them incarcerated for decades or even a lifetime.

As noted in one North Carolina newspaper earlier this week, "there is a growing consensus between conservatives and progressives, Republicans and Democrats, that too many Americans have been sent to prison for too long." An opinion piece in the paper stresses that sentencing in some cases "should not have led to confinement at all."

North Carolina currently has a program in place that identifies inmates in state prisons who are eligible for early parole and reintegration into society. Those individuals must satisfy a number of conditions as a prerequisite to program participation, including being within three years of parole and not being in a maximum-security facility.

The initiative is entitled the Mutual Agreement Parole Program. The op-ed writers in the above-cited article endorse its aims, while noting, unfortunately, that very few of the approximately 1,400 inmates eligible to participate in the program are doing so.

They should be encouraged, the writers implicitly note, given that the program is "worthy" and that, for select prisoners, "closely supervised transition to a less structured cohabitation with the rest of us is a public good."

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