Monday, December 15, 2008

Probationers put general public at risk

Arrested at last! Arrested at last! Thank God almighty, that Stephen Peter Sylvester has been arrested at last. Sylvester was arrested during the week of December 11, 2008 and charged with 11 local armed robberies of restaurants and convenience stores in Raleigh, NC. Sylvester terrorized local businesses while serving three concurrent probation sentences totaling 30 months. He had convictions for armed robbery, felony breaking and entering and driving while impaired. The suspects in the death of Duke Graduate Student Abhijit Mahato and UNC student body president Eve Carson were both on probation at the time of the slayings. America is the land of second changes, but what chance does the public have when repeat offenders are sprung free with minimal supervision and allowed to walk carefree amongst law abiding citizens. There are no signs alerting civilians that they are at risk. There are no public address systems announcing that a menace to society is within 100 yards. Probationers are not required to wear a scarlet letter. The legal system, with its overworked and under trained probation officers, has little chance of curtailing such a rapidly escalating problem. North Carolina has had 580 murders committed by probationers since 2000 according a report in the News and Observer.
The answer to the problem may be in new technology and increased funds to make it happen. Eugene Brown, Durham city councilman and Ellen Reckhow, Durham County Commissioner have written a letter to North Carolina Governor, Mike Easley stressing the dire need for this funding. Twenty percent of all Durham, NC probationers are unaccounted for. The new NC AWARE program that provides quicker notice of when a probationer has new warrants and the time it is available to state law enforcement officers may help, but it is not the answer. The probationer has already offended again and that means that in many cases others in society have been irreversibly harmed. NC AWARE may be a good system to track probationers already walking the streets. The real question is how to prevent a new crop of probationer from joining them. The answer may lie in passing legislation that eliminates probation as a sentencing option. Citizens can no longer turn a blind eye to crime. Implementing new programs takes time, but the threats are already presenting a clear and present danger.

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