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Fed. agency reviews N.C. probation

Following the killings of Duke graduate student Abhijit Mahato and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill student body president Eve Carson, the North Carolina Department of Corrections contacted the National Institute of Corrections in April requesting assistance with the probation system, which the NIC stated had "ineffective management oversight."

After reviewing North Carolina's probation system, the NIC released a draft of their findings earlier this month, recommending 35 areas for improvement. A final draft of their report is expected to be released within the next week, said Keith Acree, director of public affairs for the DOC.

Among other things, the draft recommends that high-risk probation offenders be denied bond, as well as steps to improve organization, case management and personnel training.

State officials called for the intervention after it was discovered that the men charged in Carson's death-Demario Atwater and Laurence Lovette-were both previously charged with committing other crimes while on probation. After his arrest in March, Lovette was also charged with the January shooting of Mahato. At the time of the Carson and Mahato murders, Atwater and Lovette were under parole supervision, but they were not jailed for their respective violations.

The state reached out to the NIC after several missteps in handling the probation cases of Lovette and Atwater, which pointed to larger weaknesses in the system, Acree said.

"It's about improving probation and parole process in urban areas where there are lots of cases on the dockets and it's easy for cases to get lost in the shuffle," he said.

The Division of County Correction ordered that audits be conducted into Wake and Durham counties following the high-profile murders, and the Durham audit found that 80 percent of the county's 1,400 cases had policy- and practice-related problems, according to the report from the NIC, which was prepared July 1.

The report states that the parole and probations officer on Atwater's case failed to notify the court after Atwater's felony conviction following his second arrest in June 2007. The officer also failed to prepare a probation violation warrant for the new conviction. Atwater was arrested for a third time in November 2007.

Lovette had also been arrested multiple times, including two separate felony charges in February 2008 for possession of a stolen motor vehicle, misdemeanor resisting arrest, felony larceny and felony larceny after breaking and entering. Lovette also had inadequate parole supervision. The parole officer assigned to his case was not certified at the time and made no face-to-face contact with Lovette while he was under supervision, the report states.

Both parole officers handling the cases resigned shortly after the Mahato-Carson arrests were made, Acree said. The reviewers recommended in the draft report that the DOC establish a Criminal Justice Community Corrections Council to "ensure that a forum exists for stakeholders to meet regularly to discuss and plan criminal issues," among several other reforms that would streamline the parole process in North Carolina.

Additionally, the report addressed administrative problems, such as the number of cases taken on by both newly appointed and tenured field officers. On average, each parole officer has approximately 110 offenders, the report states. Acree said these recommendations will be considered by the DOC, but ultimately the NIC holds no regulatory power over the state institution.

"Those are all simply suggestions from NIC," he said. "They have no authority to order the state to do anything. So the 35 recommendations are just suggestions to improve our programs. Some of those things are already in place, some require change in legislation. We're going to have to wait to see the final report to know what changes we'll make."

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