Raleigh, N.C. — Reacting to outrage from district attorneys and victims' families, the state Department of Public Safety on Wednesday announced changes to a program that allows convicted felons nearing the end of their sentence to go home on weekends.
The North Carolina Conference of District Attorneys appealed last month to Gov. Pat McCrory to review the program, complaining that convicted killers have been allowed to spend time at home without notice to local prosecutors or relatives of victims.
McCrory referred the matter to DPS, which recommended "more rigorous" notification of district attorneys and victim families before inmates are released on home leave.
Other recommendations that the governor approved will bar convicted sex offenders from participating in the home leave program and prevent any inmate serving a life sentence from participating unless he or she has a parole date scheduled. All other inmates eligible for the program would have to be approved by three Division of Adult Corrections officials.
The prison system's policy says the home leave program 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.
"With these modifications, the Home Leave Program will continue to serve as a useful tool to assist an inmate in transitioning from prison to home, while additionally serving to reduce recidivism,” DPS Secretary Kieran Shanahan said in a statement.
Rockingham County District Attorney Phil Berger Jr., president of the state Conference of District Attorneys, said he and his colleagues were pleased with the changes.
"The home leave program does not punish criminals for their violent behavior, and for the victims of crime, it is not justice," Berger, the son of Senate leader Phil Berger, said in a statement. "We look forward to reviewing their modifications to the home leave program and working with the administration to strengthen the criminal justice system."
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 of 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.