On Monday, April 13, Erik Hooks, secretary of the N.C. Department of Public Safety, announced North Carolina’s prisons would begin releasing select inmates in an attempt to slow the spread of COVID-19. In a research brief this week, JLF’s Jon Guze argues some of those releases may not have been necessary if North Carolina had a more unified criminal code. Guze writes:

Arresting and detaining people who are suspected of committing minor victimless crimes, and imprisoning people who are convicted of committing such crimes, will often waste valuable law enforcement resources and impose unnecessary suffering, not just on those who are arrested, detained, and imprisoned, but on their families and communities as well. And, in this time of COVID-19, arresting, detaining, and imprisoning such people needlessly exposes them and everyone who deals with them to the risk of infection.

That is why, as we emerge from the current state of emergency, it will be important to redouble our commitment to solving the problem of overcriminalization in North Carolina.

Guze explains:

Currently, North Carolina is burdened with a sprawling, incoherent, and inaccessible body of criminal law that criminalizes a great deal of conduct that is not inherently wrong and does not harm identifiable victims. Such a system doesn’t just place innocent people at risk and waste scarce law-enforcement resources; it encourages mistakes, abuse, and litigation.

There is a solution. Guze writes:

A streamlined, principled criminal code will help ensure that the next time North Carolina is faced with a statewide medical emergency, reformers won’t be distracted by a humane desire to rescue people who shouldn’t be involved in the criminal justice system in the first place. Instead, they’ll be able to concentrate on protecting the health of the people who, of necessity, must be involved in that system: law enforcement officers, court officials, the staff at our jails and prisons, and those who are suspected of having committed or who have been convicted of having committed serious crimes against persons and property.

Read the full brief here. Read Guze’s brief on North Carolina’s early-release decision here.