State News

Perdue, Basnight say probation problems need focus

North Carolina leaders say the state's probation system needs immediate attention to correct persistent problems.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — North Carolina leaders say the state's probation system needs immediate attention to correct persistent problems.

Gov.-elect Bev Perdue said the state's probation system needs repair, The News & Observer of Raleigh reported Friday. Perdue said she was concerned about probation officers who had large caseloads.

Perdue said she planned to rebuild the probation office.

"The whole system is in need of repair," Perdue said. "It puts life at risk. There is a disconnect that has to be fixed, and I'm going to fix it.

"We need to have enough staffing to allow good old-fashioned probation work. Hard-nosed probation work, like drug testing, urinalysis, did you go to work today, I'll put your body in jail if you misbehave."

State Senate leader Marc Basnight said the system has failed. The Dare County Democrat said he was surprised that 118 vacant probation jobs haven't been filled. He said the probation system also hadn't filled 26 positions the Legislature approved in July.

"From all that I can see, they have failed all of North Carolina," Basnight said of the probation system's management. "They didn't seem to be too deeply concerned about what was happening."

The News & Observer reported this week that the system lost track of nearly 14,000 criminals it was supposed to supervise.

Basnight said fixing the probation system will be his top priority when legislators return to work in January.

The newspaper said 580 people who were on probation have committed killings since 2000.

Probation work has been hampered by an old data system that made it hard to know what probationers were doing.

The newspaper said the department shut down an experimental system that would have provided key information in a high-profile slaying. The system would have told probation officers about previous arrests of one of two suspects in the killing of Eve Carson, a University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill student body president who was killed in March.

After Carson was killed, the Legislature approved $2.5 million for 26 new probation jobs. No one has been hired.

The state Department of Correction said this week a new tool has been developed that alerts probation officers daily if one of their clients is arrested or convicted. Use of the Web-based tool will be mandatory Jan. 1, said spokesman Keith Acree.

The tool was developed for less than $75,000.