Audits find probation troubles

Staff WritersAugust 26, 2008 

  • Robert Guy, head of the probation system, announced these changes Monday. They take effect Sept. 2.

    * Diane Isaacs was tapped as the assistant judicial division chief for Community Corrections Division II, a 21-county region including Wake, Durham and Cumberland counties.

    Isaacs has been interim assistant manager in Wake County since March.

    * Margaret Brewer will be judicial district manager in Wake County, overseeing 141 employees who supervise about 7,400 offenders on community supervision. Brewer has been chief probation and parole officer in Wake County.

    * John Lee is the new judicial district manager in Durham County, overseeing 86 employees who supervise more than 4,300 offenders on probation or parole. Lee has been interim manager in Durham since May. He came to Durham from the district that includes Caswell and Person counties.

— Problems in the Wake and Durham county probation offices run deep and will take time to fix, two audits show.

Robert Guy, head of the state's probation system, said Monday the disarray was worse than he thought -- with missing files, cases being ignored, probation officers making no attempt to locate offenders who missed appointments, and supervisors failing to quickly file arrest warrants for absconders.

"I was very shocked to find out the problems were as bad as they were," Guy said. "They were actually worse."

Guy's assessment came after he named new managers for the Wake and Durham probation offices and appointed a new assistant judicial chief at the regional level.

The new people will head offices that have been under scrutiny since the exposure of the lax oversight of suspects charged with killing Eve Carson, the UNC-Chapel Hill student body president, and Abhijit Mahato, a Duke University graduate student.

An internal audit of the two offices was ordered in March, several weeks after Carson was found slain in Chapel Hill. The National Institute of Corrections, a federal agency, was called in to provide an independent evaluation.

Guy and Theodis Beck, secretary of the state Department of Correction, met with the federal auditors last week. A draft issued before the meeting found probation offices grappling with heavy caseloads, high turnover and archaic computer systems that make it difficult to share information.

The results of the internal audit were released Monday.

The problems were especially severe in Durham. Glenn Mills, a senior administrator with the division of community corrections, was asked to temporarily take the reins of that office in late March.

He found an office in disarray. Case files were missing, others were not in order. New hires were "just sitting around reading manuals" and the assistant judicial district manager was constantly on the phone and rarely available to the staff, Mills reported to Guy.

The office closed for lunch when court recessed, leaving no one available for offenders who might need to check in.

Inexperienced officers were sent to court to handle violations, and some officers were "constantly having to be away for child-care issues," Mills reported.

Deficiencies were noted in nearly 80 percent of the Durham cases, federal auditors said.

Mills noted that offender photos were not taken, curfew checks were not done according to policy, no attempts were made to find absconders, officers were not spending enough time in the field, and cases were closed when offenders still owed money or had not satisfied community service requirements.

Many of the same challenges lie ahead for Wake County.

An interim management team said in an Aug. 1 report to Guy that it had overhauled office operations, set policies and procedures, and provided extensive training to staff and officers.

The team discovered 67 pieces of equipment missing -- conference tables, desks, copiers and other items valued at $110,823.

In a review of 944 case files, or 13 percent of the 7,424 offender cases under Wake County's watch, 43 percent of the cases had moderate to serious problems. Many cases were terminated without probation requirements fulfilled, and there were problems with the treatment of absconders.

The interim team told Guy that while there were dedicated officers in the Wake office, "they were never positioned by management to positively influence operations across the district."

Guy said many problems existed because the probation system had not been getting enough money. The legislature provided an additional $2.5 million this summer but did not specify how the money would be spent.

"The external problems that have been identified is something that the legislature and the next administration needs to fix, when it comes to where the money is spent," Guy said.

anne.blythe@newsobserver.com or (919) 932-8741

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