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Michael F. Easley

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Theodis Beck

North Carolina Department of Correction

Date: Dec. 12, 2008  


Response from Secretary Theodis Beck to the News & Observer Series on probation

Many of the points raised by the News & Observer probation series this week are valid - probation caseloads are high, vacancies and turnover problems persist and many offenders were not properly supervised, however the series also contained some serious omissions of fact.

Today’s probation system is a product of the Structured Sentencing law passed in the early 1990s.  Parole was abolished and the most violent offenders are being kept behind bars longer.   Judges’ discretion in sentencing was reduced and many high-risk offenders who would have gone to prison in the past, end up on probation.

While the Legislature has spent hundreds of millions on new prison construction, the funding for community corrections has not kept pace.  Since 1997, the General Assembly chose not to fund more than $130 million in additional corrections budget requests recommended by governors, which included more than 160 additional probation jobs. Further, the Department’s budget, as enacted by the Legislature, has been balanced by using money from unfilled jobs for more than a decade.

Probation officers now supervise greater numbers of high risk offenders.  More than ever, offenders are involved with gangs and drugs and suffer from a lack of education and positive family influences in their lives.

The only way to guarantee that people get supervision 24/7 is to lock them up.  No probation officer can guarantee that an offender will not commit new crimes - even murders.

The N&O reports have sought to portray the number of murders by those on probation as a problem that has become worse in recent years. In fact, the number of killings by probationers has been trending downward, from an average of 81 for 1995-1997 to 61 for the years 2005-2007.  While even a single murder is one too many, the reporting should acknowledge that the number of murders has dropped as the number of dangerous probationers has increased.

The N&O reports did not fully explain the process that led to the 26 new probation officer positions that will be posted for hiring next week, even though this information was provided to your reporters.  While these were initially authorized by the Legislature in July, the General Assembly attached strings to that funding.  We had to wait for recommendations from the National Institute of Corrections before crafting our plans for those funds, and then our plan had to be approved by two legislative committees that did not meet until October and November. The funds were released to the agency in mid-November.   

A web-based tool that matches court system data on arrests, warrants and convictions with DOC offender data went online at the end of October. This allows probation officers to quickly see each day which offenders on their caseload have gotten into new trouble with the law and to respond appropriately.

Because the probation population is now higher risk, it has become more challenging to find people who are willing to do this work at the salaries we can offer - particularly in urban areas where crime is higher.  We have sought to keep up with the challenges by raising pay where we could, improving training, implementing technology like GPS tracking for sex offenders, enhancing officer safety and blending caseloads of high-risk and low-risk offenders to improve efficiency.

While my days in office are drawing to a close, those who will remain are committed to working with the Perdue administration, the Legislature and our partners in the courts and criminal justice system to fix what’s wrong.  We’ve already made some improvements but much work remains to be done. We pledge to the citizens of North Carolina that we will continue to work tirelessly to restore the public’s confidence in our state’s probation system.

Theodis Beck


North Carolina Department of Correction
Public Information Office     4202 Mail Service Center     Raleigh NC 27699-4202
Phone (919) 716-3700      Fax: (919) 716-3795

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