Something’s Been Cooking at the Clinic: The Beginning of Charlotte’s Specialty Court for the Homeless and Veterans

May 13, 2015

By: M. Claire Donnelly

FINALLY, it is time for the Clinic to share a little project we have been working on all semester! As part of Charlotte’s 10-Year Implementation Plan to End and Prevent Homelessness, a team of community leaders approached the Clinic in September 2014. Members of the team included representatives from Helping Homeless to Housing, Urban Ministry Center, Mecklenburg County Community Support Services, the Public Defender’s Office, among others. These leaders, who knew the Clinic from our successful efforts with the Ban the Box movement, were interested in the Clinic getting on board with an initiative to start a homeless court here in Charlotte that would serve all of Mecklenburg County.

A homeless court is a specialty court designed specifically for individuals who are homeless and are charged with a status offense based on their homelessness. These charges include public urination, solicitation, trespass, etc. For many of these individuals, getting to the courthouse and keeping up with court dates is nearly impossible. Even if these individuals do make it to their court date, research shows that the criminal justice system is not meeting their needs and the cycle of homelessness continues.

The Clinic was immediately interested in the project and decided that this something we should take on. During the Fall 2014 semester, we completed research that we presented to the team of leaders at the end of November.[1] In our research, we looked at 9 homeless court models across the country, from Orange County, NC, to Birmingham, AL, to San Diego, CA, and more. Each court was unique in its own way, and we quickly found that like the courts we researched, our court in Charlotte-Mecklenburg should be tailored to our court system’s and our client’s needs.

Clinic students presenting research in November 2014.

Clinic students presenting research in November 2014.

San Diego began the first Homeless Court program in 1989, and has since provided the model program for other courts that have begun across the nation. The American Bar Association (ABA) used San Diego’s model in their adopted proposal for homeless courts. According to the ABA, “[t]o counteract the effect of criminal cases pushing homeless defendants further outside society, this court combines a progressive plea bargain system, an alternative sentencing structure, and proof of community-based shelter program activities to address a range of misdemeanor offenses. Homeless courts expand access to justice, reduce court costs, and help homeless people reintegrate into society and lead productive lives.”

Most homeless court models represent a marriage between service providers, community volunteers, defense attorneys, prosecutors, and judges. Typically, this team of people works together to figure out the needs of the homeless individual, whether the need is employment or housing or education or addiction services, etc. Then, the team creates a “sentence” related to that need, and if they follow through with their sentence, they get a dismissal for the charge.

During the Spring 2015 semester, the Clinic met with the team again and discussed next steps. It was decided that the court initiative would be tentatively named “Specialty Court for the Homeless and Veterans.” A proposal was written to submit to the Mecklenburg Board of County Commissioners (BOCC), who we hope will eventually approve the court in their budget. We attended two BOCC Public Policy workshops this semester, and there were optimistic comments regarding the start of a court. [2] The Clinic plans to continue assisting in any way we can to get the City on board with the court as soon as possible!

We also got a chance to travel to Orange County’s Outreach Court in the spring semester, which took place at the courthouse in Chapel Hill. Our team was WOW-ed by this visit and it really got us excited for the potential of a court of this type in Charlotte-Mecklenburg. It was absolutely incredible to see that just down the road, a court of this type was not only so successful, but so compassionate for their clients.

The Clinic has tremendous hope for the start of this court here in Charlotte-Mecklenburg and plans to stay actively involved in keeping it going. Keep following the blog as we provide updates on our progress!

For a great article and updated information on Charlotte-Mecklenburg’s efforts to end homelessness, see this article in the Observer from May 4, 2015.

[1] For access to our research document, please email mclairedonnelly@gmail.com.

[2] The meeting where Commissioners discussed the proposal occurred on April 28, 2015, and can be viewed at: http://mecklenburg.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=44&clip_id=2713The segment regarding Specialty Court for the Homeless and Veterans begins around 1:29:48 and ends around 1:35:15.


The Laws Are A-Changin’: A Look into the North Carolina’s Statewide Misdemeanant Confinement Program

March 10, 2015

By: M. Claire Donnelly

As of January 1, 2015, new North Carolina law is in effect that requires all misdemeanor and Chapter 20 sentences[1] to be served at the local county jail.[2] This newest change to the sentencing laws is a component of the Statewide Misdemeanant Confinement Program (“SMCP”), which was established by the North Carolina Justice Reinvestment Act (“JRA”). Originally established to “improve public safety, reduce corrections spending, and reinvest savings in strategies that can decrease crime and reduce recidivism,” the JRA policies began reforming the North Carolina criminal sentencing statutes in 2011. While these goals of the JRA seem to show that the legislation was passed to benefit the system, further consideration needs to be made: is housing misdemeanants at the county jail truly benefitting the criminal justice system?

Development of the Law

To start, the difference between jails, also known as “local confinement facilities,” and prisons, should be noticed. Jails are run by the local government and are “used to confine persons who are awaiting trial on criminal charges, are serving short sentences imposed for conviction of a crime, or are being held for a variety of other reasons.” Prisons are operated by the state government and are generally for individuals sentenced for longer periods of time.

Inmates at a cell block of the New Hanover County Jail.  Photo courtesy of StarNews.

Inmates at a cell block of the New Hanover County Jail.  Photo courtesy of StarNews.

Prior to the enactment of the JRA, North Carolina was only one of two states that sent misdemeanants to prison.[3] Thus, North Carolina prisons had very high populations as compared to other states, and they continued to do nothing climb. Between 2000 and 2010 alone, the North Carolina Department of Corrections reported a 27 percent growth in prison population, increasing the number of prisoners by more than 40,000. The State projected that the number would continue to climb, estimating that by 2020, there would be a 10 percent increase in prison population.

Because of the growth, the State reached out to the Council of State Governments Justice Center, which conducted research and data on the criminal justice system.[4] Strategies to improve the system were made and the JRA was introduced to curb the rising numbers. Initially, the JRA sought to correct several issues in North Carolina, not just misdemeanants in prison; major changes have also been made to active time for probation violations, exiting prison without community supervision, and the allocation of community supervision resources. Now reports are coming out that nationwide state prisons are going to experience a three percent growth by 2018, while North Carolina is reporting an eight percent decrease.

In 2011, the original change to the, JRA in regards to misdemeanor charges, was that sentences 180 days or less would be within the SMCP. Under that law, all sentences over 180 days and certain Chapter 20 driving violations would be served in prison. Now the law requires that “[a]ll misdemeanor sentences in excess of 90 days and all DWI sentences, regardless of length, are served through the State Misdemeanant Confinement Program … at a local confinement or treatment facility, not in prison.” Because the new law now includes all DWI sentences, an individual could get up to 36 months in a local county jail, which is the maximum sentence under the DWI laws. This 36-month sentence is an alarmingly higher sentence than the 180 days of the SMCP’s original sentencing guidelines. 

Justice v. Money

The legislature is touting the SMCP because it is a moneymaker. In this most recent change to the JRA, the SMCP proposal received bipartisan support in the General Assembly. Money is the likeliest motivator: 10 state prisons have closed since 2011, which is projected to save the state $48 million; a reported $560 million dollars will be “saved or avert[ed]” by 2017; and these savings come with a $9 million annual budget for treatment and community-based programs that remains the same as it was prior to the change. The legislature needs to look past the dollar signs. The original monetary goal of the program was two-fold: to truly “avert” the savings and to compensate the local jails for housing misdemeanor offenders. Neither of these goals is getting accomplished.

First, the goal of the JRA and the prison closures was that money would be re-directed to hire new probation officers. Hiring an estimated 300 new probation officers under Governor Pat McCrory’s proposed budget would not only beef up the currently-existing probation officer staff of 1,500, but would also allow more offenders to receive supervised probation rather than active time. No change to the budget to allow for this has been made.

Second, the compensation for local jails causes financial strain for local government. The state is providing $40 a day for each individual incarcerated at the local jail under the SMCP. This is attractive to jails that may have extra beds and can opt-into the program, however, the costs to house an offender in a jail is much higher than just $40 in North Carolina. In 2011, the Department of Corrections estimated the actual cost was $64.59 per day. New Hanover County estimates the cost is currently somewhere closer to $80 to $90 per day. In a recent project with Mecklenburg County, Clinic members learned that costs to house an individual were higher than $150 a day. Thus, while it may be helpful to get money for empty beds now, as more people stay at the county jail, local governments will face a serious financial strain under this model.

 Effects on Offenders

Statistics make the JRA look good on paper—and the long-term benefits may ultimately be good—however, one cannot help but to question the conditions and lack of programs of county jails as compared to state prisons. In the Justice Reinvestment Act Implementation Evaluation Report, an alarming statement confirms this consideration that needs to be made: “Programming (e.g. substance abuse treatment, CBI programming) for offenders housed pursuant to the SMCP is not available; generally, programming is not required in local jails.” With the minimal monetary allotment that counties are getting to house these misdemeanants, there are no additional funds available to provide the aforementioned resources they would have generally gotten in prison.

Along with lack of programming, it is unclear what will become of the good credit policies that exist for inmates. North Carolina’s Department of Corrections offered a variety of credit gaining programs for inmates, through the Inmate Nonprofit Program and other sentence reduction policies. The policies state: “When inmates are assigned to local confinement facilities or jails… the Sheriff or Administrator of the local confinement facility shall establish procedures for granting, approving, and documenting sentence reduction credit awards.” This potentially may cause another strain on local jails, in addition to monetary strains.

A noted benefit of the program is that it puts offenders closer to their families, being that they are not transferred to one of the state prisons, but rather remain in the county in which they committed the crime, or in a nearby county. So far 50 of the 100 counties have committed to participate in the SMCP, each with a varying number of available beds. While it may be positive for some offenders to be closer to friends and family, several realities may outweigh this benefit. Some incarcerated individuals do not have friends and family support. Others have been charged with a crime far away from home, making the goal of incarcerating them near home impossible. And this benefit is easy to evaporate, as once beds fill up in a jail that participates in the SMCP, the jail can “withdraw from the program completely,” causing those that would be near home to not reap this benefit of the program.

While the state makes money, potential harm could be occurring to the criminal justice system. Length of stay in local jails is now an issue. This issue needs to be addressed because several problems are going to occur to the local governments, and the resources available to inmates are evaporating. With the JRA, the state has saved money and the inmate population has been reduced, but has this occurred to the detriment of our system?

For more detailed information on the JRA and the other major changes it enacted, see the Justice Reinvestment Act Implementation Evaluation Report or the Justice Reinvestment in North Carolina: Three Years Later Report.

[1] Most states keep misdemeanants—individuals convicted of a misdemeanor—at the local jail because misdemeanor offenses are nominal crimes compared with felony offenses.

[2] The Council of State Governments Justice Center is a nonprofit devoted to “provid[ing] practical, nonpartisan advice and evidence-based, consensus-driven strategies to increase public safety and strengthen communities.” More information about the Justice Center can be found at http://csgjusticecenter.org.

[3] Chapter 20 violations covered by this statute include Driving While Impaired (DWI), Driving with a License Revoked (DWLR), and other motor vehicle violations.

[4] N.C.G.S. 15A-1352(a).


Clinic wins FIVE Successful COR Petitions!

February 3, 2015

Today, the Clinic made history!  Judge Karen Eady-Williams granted FIVE Certificate of Relief (COR) petitions for our clients today at the Mecklenburg County Courthouse!  Claire Donnelly, Gatlin Groberg, and Tierra Ragland represented the clients under the supervision of our wonderful supervising attorney, Jason Huber.

Gatlin Groberg, Jason Huber, Claire Donnelly, and Tierra Ragland, advocates for our COR petitions today.

Gatlin Groberg, Jason Huber, Claire Donnelly, and Tierra Ragland, advocates for our COR petitions today.

Our faithful followers to this blog are probably well aware of the COR project that the Clinic has been working on over the past few years.  For those not so familiar, a COR petition is a rehabilitative measure created by the legislature in N.C. Gen. Stat. § 15A-173.2 that allows qualified petitioners “relief” from their past criminal conviction.  CORs are particularly helpful in advancing employment and furthering education.  After a judge grants a petition, the successful petitioner can present it to prospective employers as proof that they have made amends for their past actions.  Because these individuals may previously have been turned away from jobs due to their criminal record, a COR provides many exciting opportunities.  Each of our clients today were very deserving and are incredibly grateful for this opportunity.

One of the cases today presented a very complicated issue of law, to which even the Assistant District Attorney remarked that there was “no precedence or guidance for the Court.”  The issue regarded whether a Prayer for Judgment Continued (PJC) counted as a disqualifying conviction under the COR statute.  Tierra submitted a brief and made a compelling legal argument on behalf of her client explaining why a PJC should not count as a disqualifying conviction.  Judge Eady-Williams found the argument very convincing and the COR was granted!

Congrats to the Clinic on the FIVE successful petitions, and the effective advocacy on a matter of first impression!

Several new Clinic members came for moral support!

Several new Clinic members came for moral support!


“The Privacies of Life”: Cellphone Searches, Court Confusion, and Public Misconception in the Post-Riley Era

December 22, 2014

By: M. Claire Donnelly

The landmark decision of the summer, that has since thrown both police departments and technology companies into frenzy, was the unanimous Supreme Court decision in United States v. Riley.[1]  The highest Court in our nation made clear: “[o]ur answer to the question of what police must do before searching a cellphone seized incident to arrest is accordingly simple—get a warrant.”[2]  The Court reasoned that even though cellphones are hand-held objects, they are not less worthy of the protections of the Fourth Amendment that our Founders fought diligently for—to protect from “the privacies of life.”[3]  Riley, which upholds one of our most fundamental rights as citizens, has led to a  debate between civil rights groups, law enforcement agencies, and technology companies regarding privacy.  In addition to this debate, and in light of the Snowden leaks, the public is unaware of its privacy concerning technology.

As Riley made its way up the pipeline, commentators were not so sure how the Court would rule.  Although Article 17 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) protects everyone from arbitrary or unlawful interferences with their “privacy, family, home, or correspondence,” the law upholding the right to privacy has struggled to respond to new technology.  Since the decision, Riley has impacted every cellphone user in our nation, which just so happens to be roughly 90% of American adults as of January 2014.[4]  Most of these users’ phones—58%—are smartphones.[5]  Every one of these cellphone owners is impacted in the way our government invades this now “private” area.

The impact did not end just there.  Riley has also impacted every technology company introducing new products that are touted to have the best encryption methods yet.  In September, Apple released that their new privacy policy does not allow for the company to bypass an individual cellphone user’s password.  Prior to this release, Apple was able to unlock cellphones for the police, and since this change the company has received public backlash from the FBI and law enforcement agencies.  The Director of the FBI, James Comey, attacked Apple and Google, who followed Apple’s lead, by saying the companies are “market[ing] something expressly to allow people to place themselves beyond the law.”  The FBI has since requested secret “backdoor” accessibility, unknown to the public.  Civil rights groups, however, have criticized this suggestion by arguing that once a backdoor is created, hackers and foreign governments will “come knocking.”[6]  In addition, these groups argued, “the government has never had access to everything, and it shouldn’t.”  Seems similar to the Court’s ruling.

Photo credit of coptubeamerica.com.

Photo credit of coptubeamerica.com.

Post-Riley, lower courts are now grappling with many other issues surrounding cellphones.  One such issue, which has been emerging as a “prime battleground” post-Riley, is cell site information, which is the data gathered from location-sensing technology on a cellphone.  Notably, two weeks before Riley was issued, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit ruled on cell site information, also referred to as “metadata.”  The Eleventh Circuit rejected law enforcement’s practice of tracking a suspect under this method without a warrant because the information is within the cellphone owner’s reasonable expectation of privacy.  Soon after, in light of Riley and the Eleventh Circuit, the Northern District of California denied law enforcement’s “longstanding practice” of obtaining cellphone location information.

Another main issue that has arisen is evidenced by a district court in Virginia Beach, Virginia, that just ruled on the new iPhone 6 encryption software, Touch ID.  The court held that the new encryption, which allows the user to access the contents of his phone via fingerprint touch rather than inputting a password, is not protected in the same way that a password is under the Fifth Amendment’s prohibition on self-incrimination in a criminal proceeding.  The court reasoned that unlike compelling a password, which violates the Fifth Amendment because it requires a defendant to divulge the contents of his mind, a fingerprint is akin to a DNA sample or handwriting, which the law permits.[7]  These are not the only issues that have judges considering the impact of Riley in their rulings, however.  As judges decide cases on searches of student cellphones, photographs seized from a cellphone of a court observer, and photographs seized off a phone incident to arrest, they are considering the powerful words of the Court in Riley: “get a warrant.”  By categorizing these handheld objects as deserving of this privacy, subsequent issues that arise from cellphones must adhere.

As more and more issues arise, recent reports are highlighting unlawful government surveillance with regards to cellphones other than opening the phone itself or collecting the phone’s metadata.  For example, National Public Radio (NPR) recently reported on the use of “Stingrays” and “ISMI catchers,” which mimic a cell phone tower and intercept cellphone signals.  The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) requested records from one police department in Florida suspected of using this type of surveillance technology.  However, federal agencies swooped in and destroyed or got rid of the technology, and provided no information on the matter.  Similar requests have been made by thirty-four ACLU affiliates, who filed over 375 requests.  According to the Riley ruling, these tactics should require warrants, absent exigent circumstances.

Another recent scandal in the media occurred in October after FBI Director Comey commented on the public misconception and hurdles of surveillance technology.  He stated:

“In the wake of the Snowden disclosures, the prevailing view is that the government is sweeping up all of our communications.  That is not true.  And unfortunately, the idea that the government has access to all communications at all times has extended—unfairly—to the investigations of law enforcement agencies that obtain individual warrants, approved by judges, to intercept the communications of suspected criminals…  Some believe that the FBI has these phenomenal capabilities to access any information at any time—that we can get what we want, when we want it, by flipping some sort of switch.  It may be true in the movies or on TV.  It is simply not the case in real life.”

Similar to the Riley Court, Comey acknowledges the importance of privacy protection in the everyday person’s cellphone and the need to have a firm standard.  However, as the above cases and reports demonstrate, law enforcement is abusing this privacy standard.  Law enforcement must adapt prior policies and change its ways in order to comply with this standard.

Locally, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department (CMPD) has reported to be adapting their policies, which are currently contrary to the law post-Riley.  Prior to Riley, investigators obtained cellphone information incident to arrest without a warrant.  CMPD Detective Brent Foushee, who has been with the department twenty-six years, said the Court’s decision in Riley “turned this [practice] on its head.”  In addition, he said that about half of his suspects in custody consent to the search of their cellphone, which under the law—even under Riley—is lawful because of the voluntary consent.

Technology companies and law enforcement may be making efforts to conform to Riley, but with these changes comes more problems.  Moreover, courts have not yet caught up with already-existing technology.  How will they be able to catch up with technology in the works?  And how will technology companies and law enforcement efficiently adapt with each change in the law?  Furthermore, as CMPD demonstrates, there are still lawful ways to get around the privacy standard upheld in Riley.  This is not an easy process.

Law enforcement, the judicial system, and the public are all struggling to understand the law in regard to cellphones.  While the Supreme Court has recognized the importance of privacy in this area, implementation of that privacy and creating a fine line for where that privacy begins and ends is unclear.  One thing is for certain, however: the Court has recognized—in a unanimous decision—that it is unlawful to conduct a warrantless search of a cellphone.  Subsequent cases regarding cellphone technology must follow this ruling.

[1] Riley v. California, 134 S.Ct. 2473 (2014)(United States v. Wurie was combined with similar case Riley, and they were argued and decided together).

[2] Id. at 2495.

[3] Id.

[4] http://www.pewinternet.org/fact-sheets/mobile-technology-fact-sheet/

[5] Id.

[6] https://www.aclu.org/blog/national-security-technology-and-liberty/securing-our-data-should-come-first.  Academia in the field is also shooting down Comey’s suggestion, as Columbia University science professor Steven Bellovin said, backdoors are “a disaster waiting to happen.”

[7] See also Keeping the Government Out of Your Smartphone, where Chris Soghoian, Principal Technologist and Senior Policy Analyst at the ACLU warned: “screen unlock patterns are not your friend.” And see Apple’s Fingerprint ID May Mean You Can’t Take the Fifth, where Marcia Hofmann, a boutique lawyer focusing on computer security, a former staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and adjunct professor at U.C. Hastings College of Law, warned of the legal effects of moving from pin to fingerprint.


Baby Formula: How Theft-Rings Impact an Entire Generation

October 2, 2014

By: M. Claire Donnelly

Think you can still walk into a store and grab a can of baby formula for your child?  Televisions, laptops, and phones are not the only popular items disappearing from retail shelves.  Over the past few years, baby formula theft has become an increasing problem nationwide.  Now, many stores have baby formula behind the counter or with anti-theft devices attached to it.  According to one newspaper: “stores are worrying less about teens stealing CDs than about … [organized theft of] millions of dollars of baby formula…”  Major retailers such as Wal-Mart, Kroger, and Walgreens report losing millions due to theft of this product.  The Food Marketing Institute reported that baby formula was the fourth most-often-shoplifted good as early as 2004.  These thefts have caused many issues to arise in how mothers can get a simple can of baby formula to nourish their child.  Thus, not only has this placed a significant financial impact on struggling mothers, but also health concerns have arisen.

What is causing baby formula to be hot-ticket item?

Baby formula, which costs on average $24 per can, can cost a family up to $175-200 a week to feed one baby.  The product is necessary to simulate milk for mothers who cannot breastfeed or have trouble breastfeeding.  When you consider that only 49% of mothers can breastfeed at six months, the population at risk here is significant.  Children need the nourishment provided by breastfeeding or baby formula for up to one year, according to the Center for Disease Control.  Because of its high price, baby formula has become a hot item on the secondary market, where a high demand for the product exists.

In addition to increasing prices, baby formula is a part of the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program.  This federally funded program provides support for parents with limited means by providing monthly issuances of food packages, along with other resources such as education and health care referrals.  As supportive and helpful as this program is for struggling parents, states also benefit by having the ability to regulate retailers and the shelf life of products through WIC.[1]

The need for regulating baby formula arose in the late 1990’s when it became clear that baby formula not only presented an economic threat to low-income parents, but it also presented a health threat to young children.  One of the largest theft-rings of the era involved the re-packaging of baby formula and the shipment of these counterfeit products to unsuspecting stores.  Drug addicts and people looking for quick cash worked in the theft-rings as low-level thieves by getting paid $1 per can of stolen baby formula.  Once stolen and turned into the ringleaders, the can would be re-packaged as a more expensive brand so that retailers paid a higher price for it.

This re-packaging scheme also caused the cover-up of unsafe ingredients and passed expiration dates because the cans could be resold on the secondary markets where expiration dates and ingredients are un-regulated.  Eventually, investigators uncovered the theft-ring after it had netted $44 million in a span of eighteen months.  Criminal theft-rings can sell baby formula to secondary stores for 30% of the retail price, which in itself explains why the product has become so attractive for theft-rings.

In addition to fraudulent re-packaging, baby formula also can be used to manufacture illegal drugs.  Manufacturers mix baby formula into certain drugs, such as heroin and cocaine, to cut their potency.  Formula can also be used to stretch the product when supplies are low.  However, baby formula demand among consumers remains higher than among drug dealers.

Even more concerning is that the large-scale criminal theft-ring does not even begin to include the thefts by young mothers who feel they have no other option but to steal formula to feed their child.  The product has become popular for both populations—struggling mothers and high-profile criminals.

Courtesy of the Associated Press.

Courtesy of the Associated Press.

States Crack Down

As mentioned previously, states are taking action to regulate baby formula.  Some states, such as Texas, have created legislation requiring retailers to buy from approved wholesalers.  Other states have amended criminal statutes to prevent baby formula from disappearing from retailers’ shelves.  For example, Michigan legislators wanted to make organized theft, which most often is behind baby formula theft, a felony.

The North Carolina legislature has recently passed a law making larceny of baby formula over $100 a Class H felony.[2]  Because North Carolina’s punishment for stolen goods is typically not a Class H felony unless the property is valued at $1,000, punishing $100 worth of stolen baby formula at this level is severe.[3]  North Carolina legislators also worked to write a bill that would fine retailers up to $2,000 for having adulterated or misbranded food for sale.

A Population is Affected

The theft-ring and resulting legislation severely impacts low-income families.  As the cans disappear from shelves, stores raise their prices.  If parents look for other means to get formula to feed their baby, they risk getting expired formula or formula mixed with unsafe ingredients.  The legislative intent behind the new laws clearly attempts to prevent all of this; however, it may only be causing more harm.

Many stores are taking measures into their own hands by attempting to safeguard inventory by putting baby formula behind a courtesy counter or using electronic tracking devices.  Joe LaRocca of the National Retail Foundation told ABC news: “Grocery chains will tell you that formula is targeted so often that in some cases they have locked it up, moved it behind the cash register, strategically put it on the floor, and in some cases, put only a limited supply on the shelves.”  This may be a key solution to the problem; however, price is still an issue and remains the driving force behind baby formula theft.  In addition, when stores place formula behind the counter, further safety measures may occur such as escorting a customer to the cashier.  This can make the consumer feel extremely uncomfortable—as if they are being accused of a crime.

In addition to WIC, community organizations provide support for struggling mothers.  Organizations like Loaves and Fishes in Charlotte provide formula to young mothers, as well as many church-sponsored food pantries.  As much as these organizations try to help mothers, they have a tough time keeping the product available once an order comes in.  In fact, Loaves and Fishes recently stated that a $9,000 baby formula order will only last one month in their seventeen Charlotte-area pantries.

Because of the crime associated with baby formula, and the high prices of the product, the needs of low-income mothers are often not met.  Community support is available, but it is limited.  While retailers and legislators are working to crack down on crime of this product, an entire generation of children are being adversely affected.

[1] WIC is a federal program designed to provide food to low-income mothers and babies under five years old.  The United States Department of Agriculture funds the program and each state administers it for their residents.  Thus, the state has capability to regulate through WIC by setting boundaries in how the program is administered.

[2] NCGS § 14-72.11.

[3] NCGS § 14-72.


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