The recent murder of Valerie Hamilton, the 23-year-old daughter of Concord’s Police Chief, serves as a stark reminder of North Carolina’s correctional system failures. Hamilton’s murder eerily resembles the 2008 murder of UNC Student Body President Eve Carson. The chief suspect in her death, Michael Neal Harvey, was on probation for multiple criminal infractions, including failure to register as a sex offender. The two men charged with Carson’s murder were also on probation at the time of Carson’s murder and received little, if any, supervision.
Despite the aftermath of Carson’s death, 109 probation officer positions remained vacant in December 2008. In March 2010, 118 positions were vacant. While the Department of Corrections has made progress in filling these positions, the current number of vacancies still remains at 17. Hamilton’s murder should remind North Carolinians of the many problems that remain within the system.
First, the state needs to re-think its budget allocation priorities and quit providing funds for meaningless projects and jobs. This summer, the state chose to reduce funding for public safety by 3 percent, making it the agency with the second largest reduction in funds (public education was No. 1). The budget also cut 7 parole officer positions and 2 community corrections positions, leaving the state with a workforce of 1,453 probation officers to handle its 108,831 criminals on probation. That’s a ratio of roughly 75 criminals to one probation officer.
Simultaneously, however, the state also chose to hire 864 new full-time employees in other areas. These areas include staffing needs at various prison hospitals, needs within the UNC school system, and needs within other state programs. One program, Heritage Tourism, was granted funds to staff 7 new positions to assist with its mission of helping rural communities enhance their tourism economy.
With the state’s unemployment rate currently around 9.7 percent and the increase of public sector jobs, why would our government decrease the number of available positions for those who protect us? Why would it continue to ignore the obvious and continue to allow unsupervised violent offenders roam our streets? Shouldn’t the murders of two innocent young women by repeat offenders be enough to provoke our elected officials to do something about this nightmare?