The Justice Reinvestment Act, a sweeping, bipartisan revision of sentencing laws in North Carolina passed last year, included provisions for more intensive supervision of offenders who had been released into the community to prevent them from returning to prison, saving the state money. But lawmakers left out one key ingredient: money to pay for probation officers to supervise the newly released prisoners, says the Raleigh News & Observer. No funding has been set aside in either the initial House or Senate versions of the budget.
Improving probation officers' caseloads was one of the reforms that followed the 2008 slaying of UNC-Chapel Hill student body president Eve Carson by two men who were on probation but poorly monitored. Yet improvement since has been slow, and the few gains in easing caseloads could suffer a serious setback if money isn't found. An estimated 15,000 offenders are expected to become the responsibility of state probation officers by next year. The state Department of Public Safety says it needs 249 new positions to handle that job, at a cost of about $13 million. The Justice Reinvestment Act recommends each probation officer handle no more than 60 offenders. Currently, the average is 80 offenders for each officer. Without more probation officers, caseloads could soar.