Probation system still struggles - Local/State - NewsObserver.com.
A year after new administrators vowed to improve the state's crippled probation system, one of the agency's biggest problems is worse.
Despite a top-level shake-up designed to correct years of poor management, a reliance on outdated technology and chronically high caseloads for officers, 141 street-level positions are vacant, up 32 from roughly a year ago.
In an economy where a record number of North Carolinians are out of work, the unfilled positions continue to be a big problem. An 8 percent vacancy rate coupled with a 10 percent turnover rate mean remaining officers are responsible for picking up the slack.
"I don't think we're ever going to be at a place when they're all filled," said Tracy Little, deputy secretary of correction. "We have paid some attention to this. I'm not satisfied with where the number is."
Correction officials say they delayed some hires in order to be able to offer jobs to employees of seven prisons the state is closing. They say they focused first on the work to close those prisons, a decision pushed on them by legislators trying to cut the budget.
In North Carolina, roughly 40,000 offenders are in prison, and more than 111,000 are on probation. The state has roughly 1,750 probation officers and supervisors charged with helping low-level offenders rebuild their lives and stay out of costly prisons.
State Sen. John Snow, a Murphy Democrat, was surprised that so many probation positions were still open.
"We did expect that they would be working as hard as they could to get people hired," said Snow, co-chairman of the committee that handles correction funding. "We had hoped that they would fill those vacancies as soon as possible so we could get those people on the street."
Eugene Brown, a Durham City Council member, has been highly critical of the management missteps in Durham, once considered one of the worst-performing districts in the state.
"In an economy like this? This system is mired in a combination of bureaucracy and molasses," Brown said. "What the system is doing is putting our citizens at risk."
State officials, including Gov. Bev Perdue, say vacancies are only part of the story. They are pleased with improved technology that gives officers nearly instant information about the missteps of their charges. They applaud other reforms that give officers a peek at the juvenile records of some of their charges and make conditions of probation more uniform.
"This is a good start, given the situation we found ourselves in," Perdue said. "We have a whole lot of work ahead."