The state Department of Public Safety is making it tougher for inmates nearing the end of their sentences to make home visits. But the move falls short of a request by North Carolina prosecutors that the governor scrap the program.
Gov. Pat McCrory approved changes that include notifying both the victim and the district attorney each time an inmate goes on home leave, DPS officials said in a news release Wednesday. Other changes would bar sex offenders from the program and not allow inmates serving a life sentence to participate unless they have a parole date.
"With these modifications, the Home Leave Program will continue to serve as a useful tool to assist an inmate in transitioning from prison to home, while additionally serving to reduce recidivism," DPS Secretary Kieran Shanahan said in the statement Wednesday.
The North Carolina Conference of District Attorneys had asked McCrory to end the program, saying it puts public safety at risk and denies justice to victims' families. McCrory's administration defended the practice last week, calling it a well-regulated program that plays a necessary role in rehabilitation.
Crime victims and their families are offended by the program, said Phil Berger Jr., president of the DAs conference.
The changes are "a good first step in eliminating the home leave program," he said. "But the people I've spoken to across North Carolina have serious concerns about letting murderers, violent felons and habitual felons out of prison for the weekends, and this type of policy just erodes the public's confidence in the criminal justice system."
Under the program, some minimum-security inmates with good disciplinary records can make home visits within a year of their release to help ease re-entry into the outside world. The policy has allowed more than 2,000 convicted felons to go home briefly since 2008, according to the district attorneys.
The program has been around for decades, but prosecutors said they only recently learned how widely it's used. The conservative Civitas Institute analyzed a recent weekend for prosecutors and found 149 convicted felons were allowed to leave prison facilities. Of those, 36 were convicted of murder and 13 had been sentenced to life in prison.