by Matt Saldaña
The News & Observer's recent investigative series on North Carolina's failed probation system reserved particular blame for the Division of Community Corrections, the state agency in charge of hiring local probation officers and overseeing probationers. Since 2000, 580 probationers under the watch of the Division were convicted of murder or manslaughter, the series found. Meanwhile, due to persistent vacancies and heavy caseloads in probation offices, nearly 14,000 probationers--including nearly 20 percent of all of Durham's probationers--have gone missing:
[Robert Guy, head of the state probation system, and Correction Secretary Theodis Beck] allowed vacancies to pile up in urban areas with heavy caseloads without using all available options to recruit replacements. And they failed to convey to legislators the growing difficulties of keeping track of dangerous probationers.
When they did ask for more help, the General Assembly usually said no. This year, legislators said yes, but nearly five months later, no new officers have been hired.
Yesterday, the N.C. Department of Correction--which oversees the Division of Community Corrections--announced that it had found locations for 26 new probation officers--and none of them are in Durham.
Durham City Councilman Eugene Brown, who had urged state leaders--including Governor-elect Bev Perdue, to shake up the probation office's culture of "turf wars" and incompetence, told the Herald-Sun (reg. required) he was "flabbergasted" by the decision:
"If it's not based on need, maybe it's based on politics," he said. "Maybe there's some retribution going on here against Durham. We're the ones who put up red flags about this organization, and maybe we're being punished for it."
Keith Acree, a spokesman for the N.C. Department of Correction said that Durham received no new officers, because it still had seven vacancies to fill, down from 17 in May--which led to this rosy report from NBC-17.
Meanwhile, Wake County will receive nine new positions in its probation office.