North Carolina’s probation system, designed to help low-level offenders rebuild their lives and stay out of costly prisons, risks public safety by neglecting or losing track of thousands of criminals, reports the Raleigh News & Observer. Since the start of 2000, 580 people have killed in the state while on probation, 17 percent of all convictions for intentional killings. Documents and interviews show that probation officers — poorly paid, overworked, some inexperienced — routinely lose contact with the people they are required to supervise and guide toward more productive lives. Probation leaders have failed to take advantage of technology advances, for years leaving their officers with no automatic tracking of the people under their supervision. Officers often weren’t aware when probationers were arrested on new charges.
State probation managers disregarded warnings — and periodic cries for help from understaffed county offices. It’s unclear how many of the 580 killers were poorly supervised, because correction leaders wouldn’t release records of thousands of probationers who committed serious crimes. They did release partial records in 24 cases; The newspaper found that probation officials had botched many of them. They failed basic tasks such as filing arrest warrants or hooking offenders to electronic house arrest. They ignored some probationers for more than a year. That prevented offenders’ early missteps from being met with the “swift and certain response” required by the N.C. Division of Community Corrections.