Under North Carolina's habitual-felon law, a three-time criminal who breaks into a parking meter or has a crack pipe with cocaine residue can be sentenced as if he were a rapist. It is expensive, reports the Raleigh News & Observer: The longer sentences add an average of$195,000 in prison costs for each habitual felon, a News & Observer analysis shows. Since the law took effect in 1994, taxpayers have committed an additional $1.5 billion to house habitual felons -- and an additional $264 million to build prisons for them.
District attorneys and sheriffs have killed all attempts to change it by painting opponents as coddlers of criminals, said former Rep. Joe Kiser, a Republican and the former sheriff of Lincoln County. Changing the law would bring gradual but significant savings. If the state stopped sentencing people to eight to 10 years for low-level offenses, it would save roughly $5 million in the first year. The savings would compound each year, saving the state a total of $190 million after five years. Since the law was passed 15 years ago, the prison population has grown steadily, from 27,052 in 1995 to more than 41,000 in 2009.