Leading on Criminal Justice Reform in North Carolina

Thom has been a longtime advocate of criminal justice reform and has been instrumental in successfully implementing criminal justice reform at both the state and federal level. He recognizes that when done right, reform can strike the balance between reducing crime, making our communities safer, and ensuring our justice system is more equitable.

As North Carolina Speaker of the House in 2011, Thom spearheaded the passage of the Justice Reinvestment Act, sweeping criminal justice reform legislation. This law places an emphasis on rehabilitation and reducing the likelihood of returning to prison, requiring those incarcerated on felony charges to be supervised for 9 to 12 months following their release.

The law has resulted in a reduction in North Carolina’s prison population and a significant, double-digit decrease in the recidivism rate. The N.C. Department of Public Safety estimates that the law has also saved hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars over the last several years.

The Justice Reinvestment Act spearheaded by Thom has proven to be a success for North Carolina.

  • Crime Rate: Down 25% (2011-2017)
  • Prison Population: Down 10.6%
  • Recidivism Rate: 10.8% Drop in Reconvictions and 13.2% Drop in Re-Incarcerations (2011-2017)
  • 11 Correctional Facilities Closed
  • The state has saved approximately $229 million that can be attributed to policies enacted through the JRA, while nearly $47.8 million has been reinvested.
    Council of State Governments
    Department of Public Safety Division of Adult Correction & Juvenile Justice

Working Across the Aisle to Pass Criminal Justice Reform at the Federal Level

In the U.S. Senate, Thom has been a proponent for smart criminal justice reform that seeks to reduce crime and recidivism through informed rehabilitation policies. Thom was instrumental in brokering a compromise for the bipartisan FIRST STEP Act that helped the legislation earn more bipartisan support in the Senate, eventually passing the chamber in December 2018 and being signed into law by the President.

The FIRST STEP Act represents one of the most significant efforts to overhaul America’s criminal justice system in a generation, aiming to reduce crime by helping low-risk inmates prepare to successfully rejoin society through participation in proven recidivism reduction and professional development programs. It also improves fairness in prison sentences by recalibrating certain mandatory minimum sentences, granting greater discretion for judges in sentencing of low-level, nonviolent drug crimes, and clarifying congressional intent on sentencing enhancements for certain crimes involving firearms. It also preserves the maximum potential sentences for violent and career criminals.

I’m a conservative Republican who believes in getting results, which requires working across the aisle and finding common ground. I view criminal justice reform as a major policy area where the head and heart meet. It makes sense on so many levels, and when done right, criminal justice reform makes our communities safer, families stronger, and individuals more productive and prosperous.

Senator Thom Tillis

Sen. Tillis has been instrumental in advancing bipartisan criminal justice reform. His continued engagement has helped to promote policy that reduces crime and recidivism, saves tax dollars, improves fairness in sentencing and supports law enforcement.

Chuck Grassley (R-IA)

Former Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman

As many have commented, the American criminal justice system is badly broken, and I commend Senator Tillis for his hard work and leadership in North Carolina, and so many other of my colleagues here.

Senator Chris Coons (D-DE)

Leading on Juvenile Justice Reform

Thom has continued his work on juvenile justice reform efforts from his days as Speaker of the House in North Carolina, co-sponsoring the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Reauthorization Act. The bipartisan legislation would take steps to reduce the unnecessary incarceration of youth, improves safeguards for minors who encounter the justice system, and strengthens services that encourage a smooth transition back into society.

Tillis has co-sponsored legislation that makes a number of much-needed reforms, including:
  • Improving treatment for juvenile offenders with mental illness and substance abuse issues;
  • Encouraging states to make efforts to identify, report, and reduce racial and ethnic disparities for youth who enter the juvenile justice system;
  • Supporting alternatives to incarceration, such as problem-solving courts; and
  • Strengthening oversight of the federal grant program and holding states accountable for failing to meet core grant requirements to protect the safety of minors in the justice system.

A compelling example of the urgent need for reform is how our system treats juvenile offenders. We know that young people’s relationship with the criminal justice apparatus has powerful, lasting consequences for them, their families, and their communities. It is therefore vitally important we make sure that all children who come into contact with the criminal justice system are treated fairly and appropriately, are not forgotten, and are afforded an opportunity to rehabilitate and become productive, contributing members of society.

Senators Thom Tillis and Chris Coons


Supporting Law Enforcement

Thom has been a champion for local, state, and federal law enforcement and has supported legislation to ensure they have the tools, resources, and support they need to protect the public and stay safe while in the line of duty.

Thom joined his colleagues to introduce the Back the Blue Act, legislation that would increase the penalties for criminals who intentionally target law enforcement officers and provide new tools for officers to protect themselves. The legislation:

Tillis has co-sponsored legislation that makes a number of much-needed reforms, including:
  • Strengthing laws to protect police officers;
  • Creating a specific aggravating factor for federal death penalty prosecutions; &
  • Opening up funding to strengthen relationships between communities and police.

Thom has also been a supporter of the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) program and co-sponsored the American Law Enforcement Heroes Act, which became law in 2017. The law allows the use of grant funding under the COPS program to be used to prioritize the hiring and training of veterans as career law enforcement officers.

While tensions are high, we all need to take a step back and acknowledge that law enforcement officers make up a diverse group of men and women of every race, ethnicity, and socio-economic background. An overwhelming majority serve with honor and distinction. They go to work every day willing to take a bullet for complete strangers to keep our streets safe. As we witnessed in Dallas and Baton Rouge, sometimes they make the ultimate sacrifice in the line of duty.

Senators Thom Tillis

Charlotte Observer