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Changes under way for Wake's probation system

Posted August 11, 2008
Updated August 12, 2008

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— On the street, it is business as usual for Wake County probation officers Jennifer MacNeil and Scott Payne.

MacNeil and Payne usually spend their days out of the office meeting with people serving sentences on the outside of a prison or jail.

Caseloads for each officer at the Wake County probation office can vary from 20 files to more than 100, depending on the type of crimes each officer manages.

Their caseloads include people like Billy Champion, who’s at the beginning of six months of house arrest for attempted larceny. In and out of jail before, he says that staying out of trouble has been a struggle.

“I almost wish I’d just went and done my time, anyway,” he said while being fitted for an electronic ankle bracelet. “But we’ll see how it goes.”

Meanwhile, off the streets and behind the scenes, veteran managers of the state’s probation system have been brought in to fix problems.

Serious oversights were exposed in the probation offices in Wake and Durham counties following the March arrests of Demario James Atwater, 22, and Laurence Alvin Lovette Jr., 17, both whom are charged with first-degree murder in the March 5 shooting death of Eve Marie Carson, a University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill senior.

Lovette, upon his arrest in March, was also charged with murder in the Jan. 18 shooting death of Duke University graduate student Abhijit Mahato.

Both men had been charged with other crimes while on probation, but neither was ever jailed for violating the conditions of probation.

An internal investigation by the state’s Division of Community Corrections found that as many as 10 staff members touched Atwater's case file and did not address red flags with it. Probation officers also lost contact with him for more than a year.

Lovette's probation officer was handling 127 cases, although she had not completed basic training, and never met with him. She had also been kept on duty although she was facing a DWI charge.

The probation officers handling those cases have since resigned, and top managers in the Wake and Durham offices have retired or been reassigned.

“We’ve felt like we’ve made a big difference,” said Vernon Bryant, acting assistant judicial district manager for the Wake Office.

Over the past four months, the Wake team of senior officials has worked to balance caseloads and reorganize the department.

"I still think that it's a work in progress," Bryant said, "but I think that we have made tremendous progress, and I feel like with all of us working together — all the employees in Wake County — we can make a difference."

Recently, the state launched a new computer program that alerts probation officers across North Carolina if someone they manage is arrested in Wake, Orange, Johnston, Chatham, Durham or Granville counties. The plan is to have the alert system eventually pick up arrests elsewhere in the state.

And earlier this year, a team of four from the National Institute of Corrections, a federal agency, also reviewed employee training and practices, including case management and staffing levels, in the state's major urban areas.

Under the current system, there is no automatic notification. Probation officers have to go to physically check court records, and that can mean delays in contacting offenders.

Despite the caseloads and, most recently, the scrutiny of how the Wake probation office operates, both MacNeil and Payne say they love their jobs.

“I wouldn’t trade it for anything else,” MacNeil said.

For them, their focus is turning lives around.


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  • Dr. Dataclerk Aug 12, 2008

    Problems all around; I would say.

  • kaizon7 Aug 12, 2008

    Increasingly, Probation/Parole officers are told to carry ever-increasing case loads, due to resignations, sick-leave requests and myriads of other reasons. When good officers leave, due to the CPPO putting so much more work on them because they know they will do the job, it puts a strain on the remaining officers who have not left or are making a career out of their position.

    Upper management, needs to modify the case load requirements and shorten the time it takes to get new recruits placed in vacant positions. From my view, it appears that upper management drags it feet in hiring new personnel to save a few dollars in the state budget. Hire an extra officer or two in each office and that will help to eliminate some of the gaps in supervision. There are too few officers supervising too many offenders for proper case management. Upper management is aware of the problems, but won't address them until a serious incident happens. This occurs all of the time.

  • Dr. Dataclerk Aug 12, 2008


    So it took the death of Eve Carson to bring about these changes.

    Why were the deaths of others before her not enough to warrant them???

    Good point!

  • formerofficer Aug 12, 2008

    As a former Probation Officer in Durham County, I have a lot to say first and foremost Robert Guy did not and I repeat Did Not Step Foot in the Durham County Probation Office in the entire 8yrs that I worked there, If I passed him on the road I would not know him. So of course he had no idea what was going on. Second Geoff Hathaway made sure that he got rid of all the skilled officers, Mr. Hataway was a CPPO in Durham County before his transfer to Orange County and he held a grudge against many of the officers in Durham, a grude that he brought with him when he returned as Judicial District Manager. So he made sure that everyone he didnt like, pay to the point that good officers were leaving like rats deserting a sinking ship. But first lets not forget James Fullwood, who knew everything that Geoff Hataway did, and let him get away with.And lets not forget the CPPO that supervised the Officer, I know when everything and I'm sure it's more comes out everyone will be surprised.

  • jholder24 Aug 12, 2008

    I would like to here what all the big guys have to say. Why were they not interviewed? Maybe no one wants to here the truth. Interviewing two probation officers in wake county is not investigating into the situtaion. This is very similar if not almost the same as what I read about two weeks ago. Where is the TRUTH behind all this?

  • jholder24 Aug 12, 2008

    Changes are underway for Wake County. So I guess assingning officers to other counties is the way to solve the problem. Still, the innocent have to suffer and help cover up others mistakes. I dont see where this story really shows major changes and research into answering the questions like where is the big guy in all of this and what pain did he suffer? Oh excuse me, I forgot, he is pretty much in a better place while his employees that were innocent are having to suffer and fight for what they have. Again, research the whole story from those who really know, not from those who tell you what you want to hear. "Changes are underway in Wake probation offices." What about the other counties?

  • ifcdirector Aug 12, 2008

    Now if we could just get the inside the beltline worker's paradise comrades to stop electing the liberal judges that put these criminals on probation or worse still your streets we might have a semblance of justice for victims of crime in this county.

  • Adelinthe Aug 12, 2008

    "The best way to solve the problem is do away with the probation system. Do the crime, DO THE TIME!"


    God bless.

    Rev. RB

  • Adelinthe Aug 12, 2008

    So it took the death of Eve Carson to bring about these changes.

    Why were the deaths of others before her not enough to warrant them???


    God bless.

    Rev. RB

  • thedg Aug 12, 2008

    The best way to solve the problem is do away with the probation system. Do the crime, DO THE TIME!