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N.C.'s No. 1 export: Gun-wielding maniacs 

You gotta feel sorry for the folks of South Carolina.

Lately it seems that every time another gun-wielding maniac who should be behind bars in North Carolina goes on a shooting or a kidnapping spree, he goes across state lines to do it.

S.C. residents end up bleeding or worse and S.C. law enforcement is left to clean up another glorious mess that has resulted from the state Democratic leaders and former Gov. Mike Easley's contempt for incarceration and law enforcement.

Most recently, S.C. law enforcement officers risked their lives to hunt down former N.C. death row inmate Jerry Douglas Case after he kidnapped and terrorized a family.

By the time serial killer Patrick Burris, arrested more than 30 times in North Carolina, was done, S.C. authorities were left to pick up five bodies in the Gaffney, S.C., area. A 15-year-old girl later died of her injuries after Burris shot her and killed her father.

Both men would have been in prison were it not for screwups by overburdened parole and probation officers and foot-dragging by the N.C. Post-Release Supervision and Parole Commission, all of whom have adopted state leaders' casual attitude about law enforcement.

Amazingly -- incredibly -- both men were jailed before they went on their crime sprees and both had enough parole violations to keep them behind bars. Yet, out the door they went after parole officials made half-hearted attempts to bring them in that ultimately failed.

Last week, The Charlotte Observer reported that the parole officer who failed to take the steps necessary to keep Burris in jail after his arrest for violating his parole will not be disciplined. The N.C. Department of Correction claims she "acted appropriately." That, of course, had little to do with the case and everything to do with deflecting negative attention from the department.

So far, the governor and legislative leaders have been largely silent about this. Five dead bodies and an interstate kidnapping resulted from these screwups, yet no hearings have been announced outside the corrections system -- and thus outside the influence of probation officials -- to find out how this happened and improve the system.

You'd think that N.C. Gov. Beverly Perdue would give enough of a damn to call for such an investigation, if for no other reason than political cover.

Last year, a Raleigh News & Observer investigation found that the probation system was so poorly funded and disastrously run that 500 people, including UNC-Chapel Hill student body president Eve Carson, had been killed by probationers or parolees. The system still can't account for more than 12,000 parolees or probationers who have disappeared or failed to check in. If I were Perdue, that would keep me up at night.

Instead, Perdue made an astounding statement in July to a S.C. reporter who asked for an explanation.

"I'm amazed that Gaffney was involved both times," Perdue said. "I'm asking the folks of that area not to judge North Carolina by the fact that these two incidences have happened."

Whaaa? Can you imagine how callous that must sound to the families of the victims? No apology? No words of sympathy? And yes this can be blamed directly on Easley, Senate leader Marc Basnight and House Speaker Joe Hackney. And increasingly, it can be blamed on Perdue, who was sworn in this January.

After the N&O's series revealed that some parole and probation officers were carrying twice the number of cases allowed by law because the system was so underfunded, legislators and Perdue promised more funding. Perdue asked for and managed to get funding for more probation and parole officers stuck in the Senate budget, but it quickly disappeared.

She eventually signed a budget that forced the elimination of 500 jobs at the Department of Correction, and led to the termination of parole management positions and shuttered prisons.

This might make sense in a tough budget year without a tax increase. But with a billion-dollar tax hike and a budget that spends half a billion dollars more than last year, it gets harder to explain. Also difficult to explain is the fact that the Department of Correction, under which these slashed jobs fell, took a $1 million cut while the North Carolina Symphony got a $1.5 million increase in its budget this year. In fact, while they shut down seven prisons with no plans to replace the prison beds and cut funds for teachers, the leaders of the legislature, with the signature of the governor (who oddly wouldn't allow the signing of this year's budget to be photographed) went on one hell of a spending spree, with funding for various arts groups alone totaling over $50 million.

Meanwhile, cuts to the already starved criminal justice system will cause the release and mismanagement of dangerous criminals at a faster rate. If that weren't enough, the legislature passed a law slashing a few years off the sentences of everyone from small-time criminals to rapists to "save money."

And never mind that North Carolina already has the fewest prison beds per capita in the South.

So, yes, you can blame North Carolina generally, and Basnight, Perdue and Hackney specifically.

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