Local Politics

Easley promises blank check to fix probation problems

Posted May 12, 2008 6:37 p.m. EDT
Updated May 12, 2008 9:22 p.m. EDT

— The state Department of Correction will get the needed funding to fix problems that have plagued the probation system in recent months, Gov. Mike Easley said Monday.

Easley released his proposed budget for the coming year, which included $4 million to improve case management and supervision of adult offenders on probation, parole and post-release. But he was quick to add that amount could go up.

"We're going to give (Department of Correction) whatever they need," Easley said.

The appropriation would add 21 people to manage offices in urban counties like Wake and Durham, put more certified officers on the street, establish a quality control team to check up on office performance and pay some probation officers more to serve as mentors to less-experienced officers.

Problems with the state's probation system came to light two months ago after Demario James Atwater, 21, and Laurence Alvin Lovette Jr., 17, were charged with killing Eve Carson, the student body president of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Both men had been charged with other crimes while on probation but were never jailed for violating the conditions of probation.

Records obtained by WRAL show state officials cited the Wake County probation office three times in the past seven years for management problems, excessive vacancies and inadequate supervision of offenders. Durham County's probation office was cited once for the same issues.

"One would've hoped that we could've fixed those problems before now. We've been in there and we fixed the issues, and we're right back to where we were," said Keith Acree, spokesman for the Department of Correction.

Despite the repeated investigations, the management team in Wake County remained the same for the last decade. At least three senior managers in the office have been reassigned in recent weeks, following an internal investigation into the handling of Atwater's and Lovette's cases.

Geoff Hathaway, the judicial district manager in the Durham County probation office, was reassigned Monday as part of the ongoing investigation. Several other employees have resigned in recent weeks.

"At this point, (we're) committed to getting it fixed this time," Acree said.

The extra positions Easley has proposed in the budget will help, Acree said, as will $1.9 million proposed to provide female parolees and probationers access to residential substance abuse treatment services. A 50-bed substance abuse treatment program at the Black Mountain Correctional Center for Women could serve 300 to 360 women a year.

Other needs may be assessed after consultants offer steps to better manage the state's bigger offices, Acree said. The National Institute of Corrections has agreed to provide a team of advisers to the state to look at case management, staffing levels, employee training and other areas of concern.