Gov. Beverly Perdue drew a line Thursday, forbidding prison officials from freeing 20 inmates who have spent more than half their lives in prison for rape, murder or assault.
It's been 13 days since the state Supreme Court upheld a Court of Appeals ruling that during much of the 1970s life sentences were limited by law to 80 years.
The larger consequence: A Cumberland County man and dozens of his fellow lifers were due their freedom once prison officials applied credits used to cut sentences for good behavior, educational pursuits and work release. Essentially, these credits halved the 80-year life terms; other good behavior chiseled them further.
Thursday, just over a week after Perdue said she had no choice but to release the inmates, she said she would stop the releases by correcting what amounted to a math problem. Prison officials applied the wrong formula to award credits, the state's top lawyers argue.
"Like most of my fellow North Carolinians, I believe life should mean life, and even if a life sentence is defined as 80 years, getting out after only 35 is simply unacceptable," Perdue said in a statement while traveling in Beijing.
The debate has prompted tough talking and hand wringing about offenders characterized as so dangerous they should never walk free. The discourse amped up even more Thursday morning when Perdue said she would risk being thrown in jail before she authorized the inmates' release.
Prison officials in Perdue's administration along with staff members at the Attorney General's Office decided that the court opinion compelled them to release 20 inmates Oct. 29 and dozens more in coming years.
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