Federal agency report recommends changes for N.C. probation
Posted August 19, 2008 6:55 p.m. EDT
Updated August 20, 2008 6:01 a.m. EDT
The draft was released the evening before state Department of Correction leaders are expected to meet with the agency.
The DOC requested assistance in April from the National Institute of Corrections, a U.S. Justice Department agency.
The request followed an internal probe into how probation officers handled the cases 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.
The reviewers made 18 recommendations to improve operations and 17 to address management and personnel issues, including:
- Drafting legislation so the DOC's Division of Community Corrections staff can easily access a juvenile's prior criminal history.
- Obtaining a daily list of defendants granted probation to ensure they are assigned supervision.
- No longer assigning new parole and probation officers to the field before they have completed training.
- Developing a 12- to15-month plan to retire the Offender Population Unified System (OPUS), which has been a source of staff complaints and was cited as a factor in operational inefficiency.
Atwater and Lovette had been charged with committing other crimes while on probation, but neither was ever jailed for violating the conditions of probation. Lovette, upon his arrest in March, was also charged with murder in the Jan. 18 shooting death of Duke University graduate student Abhijit Mahato.
The DOC's internal review following Carson's death found serious problems in how the Wake and Durham county probation offices handled the cases, including issues involving staffing, training and communication.
It also found that as many as 10 staff members had touched Atwater's case file without addressing 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 she never met with him.
The NIC draft report stated that the primary issue with both those cases was that staff failed to follow policies and that there is a lack of technology and information-sharing that affects how the DCC – which oversees probation and tracks high-risk offenders – operates.
The report recommended that DCC staff be allowed to place a no-bail bond on high-risk offenders if they are arrested on a new felony charge or for violating their probation.
The probation officers handling the Atwater and Lovette cases have since resigned, and top managers in the Wake and Durham offices have retired or been reassigned.
The NIC also noted that staffing is a major problem within the DCC. Some probation officers said pay was too low and that it took too long to fill vacant positions. The draft report also said officers were "knowledgeable, informative and willing to assist in any way."
The NIC conducted 87 interviews to compile the draft during a 2½-day visit. Among the people consulted were Wake County Assistant District Attorney Howard Cummings, Superior Court Judge Paul Gessner and Wake County Clerk of Superior Court Lorrin Freeman.
Department of Correction spokesman Keith Acree said Tuesday evening that the team that reviewed the Wake County probation office might not have completely understood the computer system and might have thought its practices were done statewide.
Acree said the draft also contained some factual errors about the Carson case, such as the county in which she was killed and where Atwater had been placed on probation.
Robert Guy, director of the Division of Community Corrections, has said that even if the agency had efficiently followed its own procedures, Lovette and Atwater could have been free from custody when the students were killed.
State probation officials will hear the NIC recommendations Wednesday in Washington.