Local News

Probation official: More resources needed

Posted December 22, 2008
Updated March 9, 2009

— The head of the state's probation system says more resources are needed to help the troubled program, which has been under scrutiny for oversights in the cases of offenders' charged in a number of high-profile criminal cases this year.

"It's a very difficult business that we're in," said Robert Guy, director of the state Department of Correction's Division of Community Corrections. "The key to it are the people in it."

Robert Guy Probation official: 'It's a tough business'
His officers failed to properly track Laurence Alvin Lovette Jr., 18, and Demario James Atwater, 22 – two suspects charged with first-degree murder in the March shooting death of University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill senior Eve Carson, found dead on a residential street near the campus.

Lovette is also charged in the January shooting death Duke University graduate student Abhijit Mahato, who was found dead in his off-campus apartment.

Although he admits his department made mistakes in overlooking Atwater and Lovette, Guy says the probation system is complex and that other factors played a role in their being out of jail.

The work probation officers do is limited, in part, by resources – funding and staffing needs. Judges' decisions in courts, where offenders are sentenced, and state laws, which shield juvenile criminal records, are also factors that play into the broken system, Guy says.

"Despite what everybody may read, we have the most dedicated public servants in the business," Guy said. "They are underpaid, and they're overworked, but they do a good job."

He says more resources – judges, district attorneys and probation officers – are needed to slow down what he calls a "fast-track" court system in the state.

"The judges, the DAs are forced to move everybody through the calendar quickly. We don't slow down and do sentencing like other states do," he said. "(We need to) get more information at sentencing times, so we can make these true sentences, as far as the risk the offender really poses."

Because the information isn't public and easy to access, juvenile-records laws, Guy says, it can make it difficult to properly sentence offenders. (Should juvenile records be public?)

For example, Guy says, a judge could sentence an offender who is 17 years old to probation for a low-level crime, not knowing that the suspect had a history of severe criminal activity from ages 13 to 16.

"Mr. Lovette is a prime example," Guy said. "He had a violent history as a juvenile, and he came into the adult system as a first-time offender."

Since problems came to light in the wake of Mahato's and Carson's slayings, the state has allocated $2.5 million for new jobs to alleviate understaffing.

All probation officers will also be required to use a new $75,000 Web-based information system that allows them to better track their caseloads.

But Guy says more people are key to being effective in the community.

"Technology is great, but I've got to have resources, and I've got to pay the people to keep them," he said, adding that he has lost some of his best probation officers to law enforcement positions.

"I've got some good ones left behind," he said. "But if we don't do something about the pay, it's going to be hard to maintain the quality we need to maintain to be effective in the community."


This story is closed for comments.

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  • b12b30 Dec 23, 2008

    68_polara: People not on probation interfere alot with us. For example, we may be at an address looking to arrest someone we know is there and momma, daddy, sister, baby momma or whoever will stand at the door and blatantly lie and say they havent seen the person in x amount of days, when in reality the guy is in the closet, under a bed in the attic. The person covering for the wanted could be arrested and charged with obstruction. However as probation officers we are not allowed to do that by the dept. If local law enforcement is there they may decide to charge that individual, but if they are not there we would have to call and request they come out and make the arrest. Just more work for local law enforcement. They are just as overworked as we are.

  • freddie cadetti 72 Dec 23, 2008

    It's the right people that count. Not people placed there for the sake of affirmative action or some token showing of diversity. Put people in place who will inforce the guidelines required by those on probation.

  • WRAL is joe_dirt Dec 23, 2008

    Sounds like after the Eve Carson wake-up call, everyone's still asleep.

  • Drakula_I_G Dec 23, 2008

    Alot of this could be fixed by widely expanding the death penalty.
    This may sound harsh, but we are very rapidly approaching population levels such that society can not tolerate the resources required for incarcerating, feeding and watching over these sociopaths when we have so many other pressing problems.
    Murder - mandatory death sentence.
    Armed robbery - mandatory death sentence.
    Rape - mandatory death sentence.
    Child predator - mandatory death sentence for any involvement on a child under 14 yrs of age - life w/o parole for 14-17.
    Armed assault - mandatory death sentence. Selling narcotics - mandatory death sentence.

  • Wolfheel Tarpack Dec 23, 2008

    EXCUSES! EXCUSES! It's laziness. I know a habitual felon who continues to commit crimnes while on probation. I've been subpoenoed twice to testify on two separate crimes by the person. She is being tried now for a felony, yet is listed as an absconder online! ALL IN DURHAM. She was in jail, yet still listed as an absconder. I can get all this information online as it's public -- they should be able to access it even better as they can use an internal database not accessible by the general public. Nonetheless, the information is there for anyone with eyes and ability to read. The websites are http://www.doc.state.nc.us/offenders/

  • twc Dec 23, 2008

    superman, I used to work in the system. I'm aware of some of the resources you mention. Although it does sound like it has improved.

    From what you say it sounds like there is some mandatory training.

    I'm saying that the training/education be mandatory and connected to the sentence. The main thing I am suggesting is that we build more facilities primarily for the purpose of reform/correction. With no frills. No education, no reform, no release until maximum sentence has been served.

    The resources that are already available to the inmates are great but are mostly benefiting those who want to make themselves better. Those people are not the problem. It's the ones who don't want to better themselves for one reason or another. Those would be the target of the reform I'm speaking of.

  • superman Dec 23, 2008

    Probation and sentencing is regulated by state law. There is little or no discrection by the court or the prison. People doing the same crime get the same sentence. The jury determines his sentence by the verdict in the court. Inmates also take college level courses at many of the prison units. Several years ago Shaw had a 4 year college diploma program in one of the prisons. But in the final analysis-- would you want to hire a prison who killed someone or who robbed people in your business? or a past drug addict or drug dealer? These people are tainted for life! Once they have a criminal history it is almost impossible for them to overcome-- The Department of Corrections does not determine probabion-- that is the duty of the court. The DOC can grant parole or work release but never PROBATION. The judge is the only one who can determine probation! The person can only be put in prison if and when they violate their probation. Do you ever watch TV?

  • onyourheels2 Dec 23, 2008

    why doesn't the state state charge these people a fee every month to stay out on parole. if they can't pay it then put them back in jail. they may already do this but if they don't, it looks like this would help to generate rev.

  • superman Dec 23, 2008

    twc you do a lot of talking but you just know nothing about the system. Anyone in prison under the age of 18 who does not have a HS diploma or a GED is assigned to go to school. They have no choice! Most of the prisons have programs and offer all sorts of classes free to inmates at night. Inmates are assigned to a prison unit based on their crime. They have to earn the privilege of moving to a different prison with less custody restrictions. Not sure now-- but several years ago-- inmates in the Wake County jail could take computer classes, electrical wiring and HVAC as well as GED classes. Free educational opportunites abound in the prison system. Classes have been offered in prisons for probably over 40 years.

  • whatusay Dec 23, 2008

    "twc" makes a good point, criminals should be screened and seperated while in prison. Those that are likely to be repeat offenders should be kept in prison for their full term. Those that are not violent and have a chance to reform should be the only ones placed on probation. But, one strike and they then become a repeat offender and placed back in prison to serve their first crime over, as well as time for the new crime.