Local News

State probation system lacking resources, director says

Posted June 5, 2008 7:19 p.m. EDT
Updated June 5, 2008 7:38 p.m. EDT

— The head of the state's troubled probation system told the Governor's Crime Commission Thursday that system is not broken, just lacking resources.

Robert Guy, director of the Department of Correction's Division of Community Corrections, blames vacancies, turnover and poor pay for many of the problems the system is facing.

He made an impassioned plea to the commission, asking for its help in influencing state lawmakers to properly fund the probation system.

"We can't seem to retain them because of money and fear factor," Guy said. "It's a tough job to be paid $30,000 a year to work these streets."

The governor's budget included $4 million to help bolster the probation program; the House has passed a version that includes $3 million for the same purpose.

Problems with the state's probation system came to light in March 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.

Lovette was also charged in the shooting death of Duke University graduate student Abhijit Mahato in January.

An internal review of their probation cases found a number of failures and oversights in how the two cases were handled.

As many as 10 staff touched Atwater's case file and did not address red flags, the investigation found. 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 on duty although she was charged with driving while impaired.

Guy said probation officers are carrying heavy caseloads due to constant turnover.

"If every position were filled, we're still able to manage, but the problem is vacancies," he said.

Department of Correction Secretary Theodis Beck said the probation division desperately needs more funding so they can raise officers' salaries.

"By and large, we've got a lot of good people trying to do a tough job," he said. "And for the most part, they do a good job under difficult circumstances."

"Let me tell you, when you start having to go into some of the places they have to go into at night knocking on doors, $50,000 may not be enough to keep them," he said.