WHAT IS STRUCTURED SENTENCING? The State of North Carolina
established a Structured Sentencing System in North Carolina through the North
Carolina Sentencing and Policy Advisory Commission. Structured sentencing
became effective for all felony and misdemeanor crimes, excluding Driving
While Impaired, committed on or after October 1, 1994. The law classifies
offenders on the basis of the severity of their crime and on the extent
and gravity of their prior criminal record. Based on these two factors,
structured sentencing provides judges with sentencing options for the
type and length of sentences, which may be imposed.
WHY WAS STRUCTURED SENTENCING ENACTED? Structured sentencing is designed to help the State regain
control over the criminal justice system and to restore credibility to
sentencing. Under structured sentencing, parole is eliminated and truth
in sentencing is restored. The new law sets priorities for the use of
expensive correctional resources and balances sentencing policies with
HOW ARE CRIMES CLASSIFIED? Felony crimes are classified into letter classes (from
Offense Class A through Class J) depending on their seriousness. Crimes
which involve victim injury or the risk of victim injury are assigned to
the highest classes. Property crimes and other crimes which do not
normally involve the risk of victim injury are assigned to lower classes.
Misdemeanor crimes are classified into four classes (Class A1, Class 1,
Class 2 and Class 3). The most serious misdemeanor crimes are in Class A1
and the least serious are in Class 3.
HOW ARE OFFENDERS CLASSIFIED? Felonies are classified into one of six prior record
levels (from Prior Record Level I through Level VI) depending on the
extent and gravity of their prior record. Felons with violent or
extensive prior convictions are assigned to the highest level, while
those with no prior convictions are assigned to the lowest level.
Misdemeanor offenders are classified into one of three prior conviction
levels depending on their number of prior convictions.
HOW IS THE TYPE OF SENTENCE DETERMINED? Under structured sentencing, there are three types of
punishments: active punishments (prison or jail), intermediate
punishments, and community punishments. Judges must impose active
punishments for felons convicted of crimes which fall in high offense
classes or for felons who have high prior record levels. Judges
must impose intermediate or community punishments for felons who are
convicted of crimes which fall in the lowest offense classes and
who also have low prior record levels. For offenders who fall somewhere
in between, the judge may elect to impose either an active punishment or
an intermediate punishment.
Regardless of their prior record, the
judge may impose either an active, intermediate or community punishment
for offenders convicted of Class A1 misdemeanors. For offenders with no prior
record who are convicted of either Class 1, Class 2, or Class 3
misdemeanors, the judge must impose a community punishment. For most
other misdemeanants, the judge may impose either an active, intermediate
or community punishment.
WHAT IS AN ACTIVE PUNISHMENT? An active prison sentence requires that felons be
incarcerated in the state prison system. It further requires that
misdemeanants with sentences over three months be incarcerated in the
state prison system and those with sentences less than three months be
incarcerated in the county jail.
WHAT IS AN INTERMEDIATE PUNISHMENT? An intermediate punishment requires the offender to
be placed on supervised probation under the supervision of the Division
Community Corrections, and the term of probation must include one or more
special conditions. These special conditions are boot camp (a regimented
military style training program), a split sentence (a stay in jail
followed by supervised probation), house arrest with electronic
monitoring (confinement to one location and close monitoring through
computer technology), intensive supervision (very close supervision and
daily monitoring), a residential center (a highly supervised and
structured program requiring overnight residence), and a day reporting center
(a highly supervised and structured day and evening program).
Intermediate punishments are more restrictive and controlling than basic
probation but less costly than prison. They generally require offenders
to follow strict rules, work, pay restitution, and participate in drug or
other types of treatment.
WHAT IS A COMMUNITY PUNISHMENT? A community punishment is any type of sentence which does
not involve prison, jail, or an intermediate punishment. Most people
think of this as basic probation. Probation may by supervised or
unsupervised. A community punishment may also include fines, restitution,
community service and/or substance abuse treatment.
HOW IS THE LENGTH OF THE ACTIVE TERM
UNDER STRUCTURED SENTENCING? For felony convictions
under structured sentencing, judges impose both a minimum and a maximum
prison term. The length of the minimum and maximum term depends on the
offense class, the prior record level, and the presence of any
aggravating or mitigating factors. For each combination of felony offense
class and prior record level, three sentence ranges are prescribed: a
presumptive range for typical cases, an aggravated range for cases where
the court finds aggravation, and a mitigated range for cases where the
court finds mitigation. The judge selects a minimum prison term from one
of these three ranges. Once the minimum term is set, a maximum term is
dictated by statute (at least 20% longer than the minimum). For
misdemeanor convictions, judges impose a single jail term. For each
unique combination of offense class and prior conviction level, the judge
selects one term from a sentence range.
HOW MUCH OF THE PRISON TERM MUST BE
structured sentencing, good time, gain time, and parole are eliminated.
Felons sentenced to prison must serve 100% of their minimum term and may
serve up to their maximum term if they misbehave, fail to work, or refuse
to participate in programs. Upon release, felony offenders convicted of
more serious felony offenses must be placed on post-release supervision.
Misdemeanants must serve the full jail term unless the Sheriff elects to
award earned time of up to four days a month for specific activities.
WHAT IS POST-RELEASE SUPERVISION? Post-release supervision is a mandatory term of supervision
after release from prison for felony Class B1 through E offenses. The
offender’s behavior is monitored in the community and supervision is
provided to help the offender reintegrate into society. The offender may
be returned to prison and serve additional time for violating the
HOW DOES POST-RELEASE SUPERVISION DIFFER
FROM PAROLE? Unlike
parole, the offender is not released from prison early. Post-release supervision
begins after the offender has served his prison sentence and is released.
Like parole supervision, post-release supervision requires the offender
to be supervised and monitored in the community.
HAS THE LIKELIHOOD OF IMPRISONMENT
UNDER STRUCTURED SENTENCING? Under structured
sentencing, imprisonment is mandatory for all felony offenders convicted
of crimes which carry high offense classes and/or have high prior record
levels. Compared to the past, the probability of going to prison is
higher for these violent an/or career criminals. Conversely, offenders
convicted of crimes which carry low offense classes and who also
have low prior record levels are less likely to go to prison than they
did in the past.
HAS THE AMOUNT OF TIME SERVED IN PRISON CHANGED UNDER STRUCTURED SENTENCING? In
most cases, the prison sentence pronounced by the judge sounds shorter
than under the old law but the actual time served is longer. Under the
old law, the sentence imposed by the judge was reduced by good time, gain
time and parole. Under structured sentencing, these early release
mechanisms have been eliminated. Compared to the past, the average actual
time served in prison is greater for most offenders, especially for
violent and career felons.
HOW HAS STRUCTURED SENTENCING AFFECTED PRISON AND JAIL POPULATIONS? The
Sentencing and Policy Advisory Commission uses structured sentencing laws
and a computer simulation model to estimate the prison and jail capacity
that is needed to make sure sufficient capacity exists to back up the
sentence imposed. When current authorized prison construction is
completed, the State will have capacity for over 35,000 inmates.
Populations are projected to remain within expected prison capacity until
the year 2006, at which time, additional prison construction will be
necessary to support structured sentencing. Based on a survey of current
capacity and planned construction, overall statewide jail capacity should
be adequate for the next five years. However, individual counties may
experience some jail overcrowding depending on local pretrial and
HOW ARE COMMUNITY PUNISHMENTS
STRUCTURED SENTENCING? The active term is suspended if an
offender is sentenced to an intermediate or community punishment.
However, if these offenders fail to obey conditions required as part of
their punishment, they may be held in contempt of court and be
incarcerated for up to 30 days in jail, or the judge may activate the
sentence. If the prison terms are activated, felony offenders must serve
100% of the minimum term and may serve up to the maximum term;
misdemeanor offenders must serve the entire jail sentence unless earned
time credits are awarded by the Sheriff. Offenders now know that if they
fail to abide by the conditions of their non-prison punishment, they face
HOW IS STRUCTURED
SENTENCING AFFECTING PUNISHMENTS
IN THE COMMUNITY? Structured sentencing is increasing the
number of offenders initially sentenced to intermediate punishments. To
handle this increase, the General Assembly funded new probation positions
to provide intensive supervision of these offenders. Furthermore, under
the "State-County Criminal Justice Partnership Act," counties
are eligible to receive grants to develop community corrections programs
tailored to local needs.