Editorial: Time to fix probation
In the weeks since Laurence A. Lovette Jr. and Demario J. Atwater were charged with the murder of UNC student Eve Carson, we have learned much about the N.C. Department of Correction’s probation division. Unfortunately, a lot of what we now know isn’t very comforting.
It’s clear to anyone who has followed the story that parts of the state’s probation system are badly broken. On April 11, representatives of the probation division told members of Durham’s Crime Cabinet that many of the division’s problems stem from a high staff turnover rate and too few juvenile counselors. Other troubles are the result of mishandling juvenile offenders and poor oversight.
Robert Guy, director of the state’s probation division, acknowledged that Atwater’s probation was bungled. He said internal checks and balances to ensure Atwater was properly supervised were not followed. That’s unacceptable, and it should not have to take a senseless murder to highlight these systemic shortcomings.
Guy also said audits of probation offices here in Durham and Wake County, both of which were at one time responsible for managing Atwater’s case, will be shared with Gov. Mike Easley and state Secretary for Correction Theodis Beck. Let’s hope a recommendation spills forth to ensure frequent audits of all probation offices so shortcomings are more quickly identified.
Complaints about staff shortages are legitimate. In the Durham probation office, only 55 of the 71 authorized positions are filled. The 16 vacancies mean many probation staffers are pulling extra heavy loads. Statewide, 2,000 certified probation officers are expected to keep track of 125,000 offenders. You do the math.
And the tough demands of the job, coupled with low pay ó starting pay for the lowest-ranking probation officers is $31,696, which is among the lowest amount for a state job requiring a college degree ó fuels an extraordinarily high turnover rate. Since 2005, 62 employees have reportedly left the Durham probation office.
We’re also troubled by Durham’s chief court counselor Donald Pinchback’s contention that he is operating with six to eight fewer juvenile counselors than he needs. If Pinchback’s accounting is correct, it’s hard to imagine his staff keeping up with its workload.
It’s unfortunate, but the truth is that for many years now juvenile crime has been a growth industry. The state can’t continue to expect good results from its probation division without giving it the resources it needs. In the meantime, probation officials have to get better at making sure dangerous criminals don’t slip through the cracks.
ó The Herald Sun