Long before Demario Atwater of North Carolina was arrested in March in the killing of student leader Eve Carson, Lee Lloyd had flagged him as dangerous, says the Raleigh News & Observer in the second in a series. In January 2007, Lloyd’s company ran a free experimental program, sending e-mail alerts to probation officers when their clients were charged with new crimes. This was a huge help for the officers. They were hamstrung by an antiquated computer system but needed to know whether the criminals they supervised were getting into more serious trouble. When Lloyd read about Atwater’s arrest, he wondered whether the probationer’s record had triggered an alert. It had, but no one received his e-mail alerts. Despite rave reviews from probation officers, the program had been spiked by probation officials.
Probation officers have spent hours each month looking up their clients on a computer system that predates Windows. It’s so old that the computers don’t have a mouse. Until last month, there was no simple way for a probation officer to check whether new criminal charges have been filed against any of the 114,000 probationers under their watch or to see whether somebody they’ve been trying to find is actually in the county jail down the street. A News & Observer investigation turned up hundreds of cases where probation officers lost track of criminals who were violating probation — and then were charged with murder, rape and other serious crimes. A probation offical axed the e-mail program because he had no money for it and because the project violated purchasing rules, saying, “I’m not going to get out there on the limb about someone out there doing their own project, a renegade project.”