Local News

Durham won't get more probation officers this year

Posted December 17, 2008 3:52 p.m. EST
Updated March 5, 2009 5:36 p.m. EST

— The failure to oversee two murder suspects who were on probation in Durham and Wake counties when highly publicized killings occurred this year led to management changes in both offices and prompted the state Legislature to allocate $2.5 million for new jobs to help with understaffing.

But Durham won't see any of the 29 positions this budget year, according to numbers released Wednesday from the North Carolina Department of Correction.

DOC spokesman Keith Acree said that the Durham office is considered fully staffed with the 65 probation-parole officers already allotted and can manage the number of offenders in the district. As of Monday, Durham was at 59, with six officer vacancies.

Wake County will get nine additional probation officers, Guilford County will get three, and the remainder of the other 17 new positions will be spread throughout the state.

Acree said the DOC allowed for new staff in counties that did not have enough officers. Wake County, he said, needed more on the street.

Durham District Judge Marcia Morey said Durham probation officers are overworked and that with a 10 percent vacancy rate, the issue needs to be addressed.

"We have officers doubling up on caseloads," Morey said. "They can't possibly handle the new people coming in. Numbers are increasing, and with this economy, it's only going to get worse."

Durham City Councilman Eugene Brown has sent a letter to Governor-elect Perdue, who has said she is concerned about heavy caseloads, asking for help to remedy the situation.

With new hires made over the summer, Acree said, Durham has a better management structure and more supervision than other offices. The office recently added another assistant judicial district manager, two chief probation officers and a data-entry position.

The Durham office will also get 63 new radios, valued at $196,000, to allow for better communication between probation officers and local law enforcement.

"It's running in compliance on the same ration that everybody else across the state is running," said John Lee, who as judicial district manager, supervises the Durham office. "Under the current guidelines the Department (of Correction) has in place, 65 meets that goal."

Investigative reports from earlier this year found Durham and Wake counties' probation offices were disorganized, inefficient and "in a crisis situation" with their work forces.

The probes were ordered in the wake of the shooting deaths of Duke University graduate student Abhijit Mahato in January and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill senior Eve Carson in March.

The men charged in both slayings were on probation at the time of the crimes, and the internal probe into their case files found they had been overlooked, partly because of overworked and undertrained staff.