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Incarceration and Reentry: What You Need to Know About Incarceration in North Carolina

In recent years, the month of April has been declared Reentry Month by federal and state administrations. So let’s talk about what the current state of incarceration and reentry is in North Carolina

The Quick State of Incarceration in North Carolina

A tenth of North Carolina’s population has a criminal record; that’s 1.3 million people. On any given day, there are roughly 91,000 people on probation or parole, and about 40,000 people are incarcerated in either a prison or jail. That’s 131,000 people under government supervision every day! Of those 131,000 people, 98% will return home.

Once an individual has returned home, everything can be boiled down into two outcomes: successfully reintegrate back into society or return to prison. 60% of people will successfully return, leaving about 40% to recidivate (be arrested again) within 3 years of release.

Returning to prison can mean additional crimes committed, more tax dollars required to keep them there and more broken homes. We want to reduce the number of people this happens to. By reducing recidivism, we can reduce crime rates, ACEs (Adverse Childhood Experiences), tax spending on prisons, negative social determinants of health, and poverty; and see improvements in the economy, family involvement, and the long term health of those incarcerated and their families. 

Some terms to know when talking about incarceration:

Returning Citizen vs Ex-Con/Ex-Felon/Convict

Traditionally, people released from prison have been referred to as ex-con, ex-felon, convict or any number of variations. These terms have a lot of baggage and bias associated with them and encourages people to define them by one negative factor of their life. The preferred term is returning citizen. Returning citizen recognizes the mistakes of their past, but focuses on the positive possibilities for their future. 

Reentry vs Recidivism

Reentry refers to a returning citizens leaving prison and trying to integrate back into society. High reentry rates are a good thing! They mean more people are returning home to their families. 

In the simplest terms, recidivism means a person is arrested and returning to prison for a new offense. Many people who recidivate are doing so because of parole or probation violations, however there are people who recidivate because they commit another crime. Reducing recidivism means reducing the additional crimes and violations, and thus keeping people out of prison so they have a better chance to reentry society successfully.

Probation vs Parole vs Community Supervision

Probation and parole are alternatives to prison or jail time.  Probation is given instead of prison or jail time, while parole is an early release from prison or jail. Both have strict requirements from alcohol use to work requirements to visits with their supervising officer. Community Supervision refers to someone who is either on probation or parole. There are about 91,000 people under community supervision on any given day in North Carolina. That’s twice the average population in prison on any day. 

Nationwide, 1 in every 55 adults are under community supervision. Unfortunately, only half of those on probation or parole will successfully complete their sentence. The other half will be put into prison or jail for parole or probation violations. Often, these are technical violations which means no crimes were committed.

Jail vs Prison

Although many people use jail and prison interchangeably, they are two very different places for two different purposes. 

Jails are confinement facilities for short-term use. Most people in jail are waiting for trial or sentencing; or are serving short amounts of time for a minor offense, such as a misdemeanor. Jails are run by local law enforcement. 

Prisons are facilities for people who have already been sentenced for a crime. Usually, people in prison have committed a felony offense. Prisons are run by the state or federal government, and some prisons are run by private corporations. 

The Facts

The Big Picture

Family Impact

Racial Disparities

Why it Matters

It costs about $28,000 to keep an inmate incarcerated each year. Multiply that by 67,000 people in jail or prison in 2018 and that’s $1.9 million dollars per year just to keep people incarcerated! Meanwhile, the average cost spent on students in North Carolina is only $8,000 per student.

What would happen if we didn’t have so many people incarcerated? What could those tax dollars do? 

Reducing incarceration would allow us to keep building strong families and strong communities. It would improve the health and happiness of children and adults alike. Having more people working improves the economy. It improves the quality and quantity of services in your area. Overall, we all benefit when we help each other succeed, and it’s no different for returning citizens.

Want to Help?

There are many ways you can help us fight poverty in North Carolina:

  • Buy Our For Cause Coffee | NEW Grounds Coffee is our custom coffee blend. Every fresh cup supports a fresh start for a returning citizen. All profits go towards our NEW Reentry Program, which helps returning citizens find work and reintegrate successfully back into society.

  • Donate | We use your money to help run our programs, and provide training that helps organizations and individuals make their way to self-sufficiency. You can donate on our web page or find an agencies local to you.

  • Volunteer | We can’t do this alone. Join us! Find one of our agencies in your county and check out their website for volunteer opportunities.

  • Become a Member | Did you know you can become a Community Action Member? Membership provides discounted tickets to our various events, an inside look into our organization and more. Membership fees start at only $25 a year for an individual, or $300 for an agency.

  • Partner with Us | We are humbled by the many non-profit and for-profit organizations that partner with us to bring services, educations and events to North Carolina. If your organization is looking for a non-profit to partner with, please consider us. Email us at We would love to hear from you!

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