RALEIGH, N.C. — A recent report from the Sentencing Project finds North Carolina to be one of twelve states in which more than half the prison population is Black.
Criminal-justice reform advocates say barriers to re-entry often mean people of color end up back behind bars.
Yolanda Taylor, a former attorney for Legal Aide of North Carolina’s Wilson office, explained for the one in four North Carolinians with criminal records who have served their time, many are unable to financially support themselves and their families.
“And we do see how the majority of our clients are African American people, who have had past interactions with the judicial system and are now prevented from obtaining a job or obtaining housing,” Taylor explained.
Taylor noted legislation such as the Second Chance Act, signed into law by Gov. Roy Cooper last year, will help more individuals get on their feet after incarceration.
Beginning Dec. 1, the law will allow certain misdemeanor and felony charges dismissed in court to be automatically expunged, so individuals will not have to file expungement petitions to remove dismissed charges from their record.
Taylor added the criminal-justice system disproportionately impacts the poorest Black and Brown communities.
“People earning less than 150% of the poverty level are 15 times more likely to be charged with a felony,” Taylor pointed out. “Which by definition carries a longer sentence, as we know, than those people earning above that threshold.”
The report calls on states to eliminate mandatory sentences and stop arrests and prosecutions for low-level drug offenses.