In 1990, the North Carolina General Assembly created a commission to study and report on proposals to revamp North Carolina’s sentencing system. The old system was called Fair Sentencing. Among the complaints were that the system was not fair, did not treat people equally under the law, and did not provide transparency in sentencing.
Under the old system, which used a combination of good time, gain time, and parole, a person would be sentenced to a comparatively wide range of possible sentences by a judge, only to have the actual sentence determined by the Department of Corrections. While the purported sentence could be very lengthy, the actual sentence served was more often than not much more lenient.
This indeterminacy in sentencing created the impression of leniency, especially when someone was sentenced to a long sentence, but was released much earlier, and then went on to commit additional crimes.
In 1994, North Carolina implemented Structure Sentencing, which gave the judge discretion, but only within a narrow band of possible punishments depending on the level of the crime and the person’s prior record level.
How has this system performed? Virtually every year the North Carolina Sentencing and Policy Advisory Commission releases Citizen Guides to structured sentencing in North Carolina. These guides are useful explanations of how this system works in North Carolina.