Outgoing probation chief: More needed than leadership change
Posted January 9, 2009 11:41 a.m. EST
Updated March 9, 2009 5:12 p.m. EDT
Raleigh, N.C. — The outgoing director of the state probation system says new leadership, alone, won't fix the issues facing the troubled institution.
"They've got to find the money to provide the resources for these probation officers," Robert Guy said this week. "They've got to find the money to provide the pay raises to keep good people. If we do not do this, then it's going to get worse before it gets better."
After 12 years as head of the Division of Community Corrections, Guy is retiring from the post, effective Feb. 1 – a decision he made late last year after more than 10 months of controversy and heavy scrutiny of how effectively the agency tracks offenders on probation.
Problems were brought to public attention 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.
Two suspects from Durham who are charged in the slayings were on probation at the time of the crimes, and an internal probe into their case files found their managing officers overlooked them, partly because of being overworked and undertrained.
Durham and Wake counties' probation offices were disorganized, inefficient and "in a crisis situation" with their work forces at the time, according to investigative reports.
Since then, though, Guy says the program has undergone numerous changes, including new district management and a stronger leadership team.
"There are multiple things we've accomplished," Guy said. "We've put very good people in positions of management. We've had problems, but they've been addressed."
In addition, the General Assembly has allocated $2.5 million for jobs to alleviate understaffing and to fill more than 160 vacant positions across the state. Probation officers are also using a new $75,000 Web-based information system to help them more efficiently track their caseloads.
And despite the negatives of the system, Guy says his staff does a lot of good that the media have ignored.
"They don't talk about those lives we save every day, how many victims we've protected from being victimized again," he said. "The success stories don't get told."
Guy has also been the target for criticism from local leaders, some of whom have said the probation issues are an embarrassment to the state and have called for Governor-elect Beverly Perdue to "clean house" in her administration.
Her transition office announced last Friday that Guy would not return. He said he was told the administration likely would not ask him to stay on in his role.
Guy maintains the blame can't be placed on only him, however.
"As the head of the agency, I've accepted the responsibility. But at the same time, the system has to accept the responsibility of our failures," Guy said.
The work that probation officers do is limited, in part, by resources – funding and staffing needs, he says. Judges' decisions in courts, where offenders are sentenced, and state laws, which shield juvenile criminal records, are also factors that play into the broken system.
"From the Legislature that passes the policy and writes the laws to the whole, entire court system that's underfunded, I think there's some room for improvement there," Guy said.
And the community plays a part, too, in the form of job skills and training programs – partners Guy says the agency does not have.
"Everybody thinks this is a state problem or a probation problem. No, it's a community problem," he said. "It's everybody's responsibility in the community to do something about this."