Tracking offenders in N.C. has new focus
Posted March 5, 2009 5:58 p.m. EST
Updated March 13, 2009 6:35 a.m. EDT
Raleigh, N.C. — More probation officers are on the streets, and better technology helps them find those who get in trouble again.
The state's troubled probation system is undergoing an overhaul sparked by the shooting deaths last year of Duke University graduate student Abhijit Mahato and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill senior Eve Carson.
Demario James Atwater, 22, and Laurence Alvin Lovette Jr, 18 – both suspects in Carson's death – were on probation at the time of the crimes. Despite repeated arrests, they face little to no consequences for that. Lovette is also charged in Mahato's death.
Records show that probation officers tried to make contact with Atwater once in more than two years. Lovette's two arrests while on probation also went undetected.
Robert Guy, then-director of the North Carolina Department of Correction's Division of Community Corrections, which oversees the probation-parole system in the state, called the Lovette oversight "flat out embarrassing."
An internal probe into what went wrong ultimately found that inadequate staffing, high turnover rates, case reassignments and lack of training led to deficiencies in the suspects' supervision.
Probation officers also had no central system for communicating with other law enforcement and judicial agencies, and no system notified them when their clients violated probation.
In August, reports obtained by WRAL News showed that management problems in probation offices in both Wake and Durham counties had been identified years earlier.
Four probation office managers were reassigned, and five others, including Guy and Department of Correction Secretary Theodis Beck retired abruptly.
Tim Moose is the acting probation director. He says the division is focused on details.
"I think any profession that deals with human behavior is complex, and none of us want to have negative outcomes," Moose said.
An alert system now notifies probation officers if someone assigned to them is arrested.
The General Assembly also allocated $2.5 million for 29 new probation officers across the state, including nine in Wake County. There is also a push to train officers to handle a variety of cases – a capability that earn them a higher starting salary.
The state is also planning to launch a new Web site with photos of the nearly 14,000 people on probation whose whereabouts are unknown. Republican state lawmakers pushed for the move as a way to help find absconders.
Guy, however, said earlier this year that new leadership won't be enough. He said better pay for officers and stricter controls on violent juvenile offenders are needed, too.