NEW HANOVER COUNTY -- More than two million people fill America's jails and prisons -- the highest number ever. North Carolina follows the record breaking national trend. Not only are there more inmates than ever before, but more money is being spent to keep them locked up. The North Carolina Department of Correction has more than a $1 billion budget this year, the highest it has ever had. There are more than 38,000 inmates in prisons across the state, not counting inmates in county jails. Locally, the New Hanover County jail currently has more than 500 inmates in a facility built to hold 648. Kimberly Cook is the chair of the sociology and criminal justice department at UNCW. She says the current incarceration system is more expensive and less effective than originally intended. Cook said, "The higher incarceration rate is really a reflection of the policies that have been established over the last 15 to 20 years with respect to longer mandatory minimum sentences, with respect to the war on drugs." Cook says people are also often sent back to jail for parole violations. Instead of sending them to jail and spending money to keep them behind bars, some states are setting up community-based programs for violators. There are local programs that work with people recently out of jail and prison to help make them productive citizens and reduce the risk of them violating parole and probation.
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