Raleigh, N.C. — Sen. Thom Goolsby, R-New Hanover, took to the floor of the state Senate Wednesday to denounce a program that allows convicted felons nearing the end of their sentence to go home on weekends.
"Many of the people on this list are murderers," Goolsby said, encouraging lawmakers to put pressure on Gov. Pat McCrory to end the program or take up legislation if the governor does not act. "This is an outrage."
Goolsby said the program was brought to his attention by Phil Berger Jr., a Republican district attorney from Rockingham County and the president of the North Carolina Conference of District Attorneys. Berger is also the son of Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger.
"More than 2,000 criminals have taken advantage of this policy since 2008," the younger Berger wrote in a letter to McCrory. "What shocks the conscience more than the release of these dangerous individuals is the fact that victims and prosecutors are not aware of their presence in the community. The North Carolina Conference of District Attorneys requests that this policy be rescinded immediately."
The prison system's policy says it was designed "for inmates who are nearing release to re-establish family relationships and community socialization in preparation for their transition back into the community." It specifically said that inmates should be within 12 months of parole eligibility and remain infraction-free while in prison.
A count of participants provided by the district attorneys shows that 149 inmates were allowed out on home leaves during the most recent weekend, including 36 people convicted of murder, four convicted of manslaughter/death by vehicle and 39 convicted of drug trafficking. Another breakdown shows that 13 of those participating are from Guilford County, eight are from Wake County and seven from Cumberland County.
A McCrory spokesman referred questions to the Department of Public Safety.
“For over three decades, the home leave program has allowed for inmates who are nearing release to re-establish family relationships and community socialization in preparation for their transition back into the community," said Commissioner of Adult Correction David Guice. "Every inmate is carefully screened and selected and undergoes a thorough investigation before admission into the program.”
WRAL News recently reported on the case of Raymond Cook, 46, who was found guilty on March 1, 2011, of involuntary manslaughter, felony death by motor vehicle and driving while impaired in the Sept. 11, 2009, death of Elena Shapiro, who danced for the Carolina Ballet. He is allowed both work release during the week and home visits on the weekend.
Others on the list prisoners who have been allowed home visits include Robert B. Pollard, who pleaded guilty in 2007 to second-degree murder in connection with a case that involved two people killed, dismembered and buried beneath a farmhouse near Selma.