Currently, the number of sex offenders alone is higher than the number of officers.
If a probation or parole officer makes a mistake, it is front page news, as in the case of the Gaffney, S.C. serial killer. If they do their jobs correctly, it is never known what they may have protected the community from.
Richmond County Chief Probation and Parole Officer Jason Graham explained that changes to the probation system announced by Gov. Bev Perdue last week will give his officers more tools to ensure the public never knows what an offender’s next crime might have been.
“This is going to take a lot of frustration out of officer’s jobs,” Graham said. “They’re going to spend a lot less time doing paperwork and jumping through hoops, which will free them up to provide more effective management. And that’s what everyone wants.”
According to a release from Perdue’s office Thursday, she signed Senate Bill 920 into law, which offers several provisions to increase access to information for both probation officers and law enforcement.
The release says the reforms “will speed the process of obtaining warrants for parole commission violators and put more information into the hands of law enforcement.”
First, the Post-Release Supervision and Parole Commission will now respond to requests for warrants within 24 hours, probation officers will receive a violation report within that same time period and warrants will be immediately put into a state database when issued.
The North Carolina Department of Correction database was first made available to law enforcement in June, the release reads, and since then 128,000 queries have been made by law enforcement and 1,146 probation absconders arrested.
The bill also allows probation officers the authority to perform warrantless searches on supervised probationers, gives law enforcement access to whether or not someone is on probation through a state database and gives probation officers limited access to offenders’ juvenile records.
In addition, law enforcement will also be able to search supervised probationers without a warrant if they have reasonable suspicion that individual is engaged in criminal activity.
“With these changes, law enforcement and probation officers will have immediate access to information and will be better prepared to protect themselves and their communities,” Perdue was quoted.
Graham said he’s worked in probation and parole since 1992, and this is the best piece of legislation he has seen in his career.
“This will be very helpful,” he said. “What it will do is streamline a lot of processes we already have in place, in order to enable officers to do their job more effectively.”
He explained that in the case of warrantless searches especially, this is something that could already be done under some circumstances.
“These are conditions that used to be special conditions, but now they will be standard conditions when a person is placed on probation,” he said.
He also said the fact police officers will be able to know whether an individual they encounter is on probation or not will also help them to identify problems.
“We have a good communication network, especially on the local level, but to have this systematic overhaul will be very helpful,” he said. “When they find out if the person is on probation, they can then contact their officer with questions like: ‘Is this person supposed to be home right now?’ A lot of our offenders are on a curfew.”
“From the outside looking in, the juvenile records, and having access to them, may not seem like such a big deal, but when we assess these people, especially young offenders, this will really help officers target their management more effectively,” Graham said. “This will really help our officers when they’re assessing risk and assessing needs, with information they wouldn’t have known before.”
“This kind of access to information is crucial for the safety of our officers, our law enforcement partners and the public,” North Carolina Correction Secretary Alvin Keller was quoted in a news release. “No longer will probation violators be able to hide from the system.”