Probation fixes are a priority, Perdue says

Staff WriterFebruary 1, 2010 

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CORRECTION

An article earlier this month incorrectly reported that Gov. Bev Perdue dismissed Robert Guy, the former probation director at the N.C. Department of Correction. Guy officially retired on Feb. 1, 2009. The transition staff of then Gov.-elect Perdue said on Jan. 2, 2009, that Guy would not continue in his job as probation director.

****** Gov. Bev Perdue said Sunday that fixing the state's probation system remains high on her to-do list.

"I am not happy with where probation and parole, our state's system, is today," Perdue said Sunday. "I am happier than I was at this time last year. ... It was a wreck."

Perdue was responding to a report in The News & Observer that one of the probation system's chief problems has worsened in the past year: 141 street-level positions for probations officers are vacant - up 32 from a year ago.

Vacant positions pile more work on remaining officers, who already struggle with high caseloads of offenders to supervise.

Problems in the probation system came to light after the March 2008 shooting of Eve Carson, the student body president at UNC-Chapel Hill.

A series published in The N&O in December 2008 also showed that 580 probationers had been convicted of intentional killings from 2000 to 2008 while under the watch of the system - and officers had lost track of 14,000 convicted criminals. Top management had ignored the problems, and failed to fix antiquated computer systems that caused officers to spend hours a day on routine tasks, the series showed.

Correction officials have made progress in some areas. A new computer program automatically notifies probation officers when an offender gets in trouble or is due for an appointment. This frees up more time to get out of the office and visit offenders at their home or jobs.

The department will also provide police-style radios to probation officers in the field.

Perdue took credit for cleaning house. "We got rid of some folk within the system," she said. "I told them to do that."

One of her first acts in 2009 was to dismiss former Probation Director Robert Guy. In February, James "Woody" Fullwood stepped down from his job directing the probation offices in 21 counties, including some of the most troubled offices in Wake and Durham.

"This is high on my radar screen; it has been all year," Perdue said. "It will continue to be, and until we get it fixed, there's nothing to brag about."

joseph.neff@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4516

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