Faced with increasing caseloads and a growing number of dangerous offenders, North Carolina’s probation and parole officers and the system they serve are in flux as they grapple with an evolving judicial apparatus, says the Wilmington (NC) Star News. Some used to travel unarmed; now they all carry .40-caliber handguns. Probation officers are increasingly focused on reforming offenders rather than simply supervising them. The number of probation cases has risen as judges prescribe alternative punishments in lieu of prison time.
These changes are a product of the sweeping reforms implemented by the North Carolina legislature in 1994. Called structured sentencing, these new laws were intended to help alleviate overcrowded prisons and lengthen prison terms for repeat violent offenders. Because the most violent offenders go to prison for longer stretches, that’s resulted in an increase in the number of offenders who may not be quite s0 violent, but who are still dangerous, walking the streets. Tony Rand, chairman of the three-member N.C. Post-Release Supervision and Parole Commission, said that since structured sentencing went into effect, the commission has increasingly shifted focus away from parole and towards post-release supervision. Last year, 2,278 inmates were released last year on post-release supervision. That’s up from 37 in 1995, a year after structured sentencing took effect.