State Parole Office shuts down controversial 'pizza party competition' in Wake County

Andrea Blanford Image
Saturday, January 9, 2016
Pizza party flap
Jail the most people already on probation and get a pizza party thrown for you.

WAKE COUNTY (WTVD) -- Jail the most people already on probation and get a pizza party thrown for you.

That was the gist of a "competition" between parole officers in Wake County, until the state shut it down Thursday. Whichever unit of probation officers - there are 16 such units in Wake County - arrested the most parolees and probationers through what are called "quick dip confinements" would get a pizza party.

"Why?" asks the flyer.

"To ensure we address noncompliance of course... and to increase our numbers... (and to win a prize, ha!)," is the answer given.

"Keep in mind," the flyer advises parole officers, "we can only use Quick Dip Compliance to address noncompliance of a court ordered condition! (missed appointments, positive drug tests, etc.). Good Luck Everyone!!!"

Friday, an official with the state Division of Community Corrections, within the NC Department of Public Safety, told ABC11 the state shut down the competition upon learning about it yesterday.

"We didn't know about the pizza party or it would not be taking place," said Lewis Adams, Judicial Division Administrator for Division 2. "Management was made aware of it yesterday and, after a brief conversation, halted the competition."

Later Friday, the head of the Department of Public Safety's Community Corrections told Eyewitness News she was surprised when she learned of the pizza party incentive for most quick dip confinements.

"This is the first we've ever heard of a quick dip competition anywhere in the state," said Anne Precythe, state probation director.

She said her office learned of the competition on Wednesday and shut it down the next morning; hosting a conference call with the manager who organized the competition and two others from Wake County, along with their supervisors.

The unnamed tipster who sent ABC11 the flyer advertising the competition included two emails sent by a program manager in Wake County encouraging employees to take part in it.

"Get ready," she writes, "A District Wide Quick Dip Compliance Competition is about to start!!!! Get with your Unit for a game plan if needed and see if you can help get your Unit to Number 1." Laced in the email are tiny clip art pictures known as emojis.

The email was apparently sent on Dec. 16, 2015.

A follow up email went out Jan. 1. The same manager, writing "The QDC Competition is now in full swing!!! Good Luck Everyone!! Ends February 29!!"

Precythe said the manager in question was promoted into her new role two months ago.

"With her being a new manager in the district I'm sure she was trying to encourage utilization it just wasn't executed the best way," she said. "She has a lot of energy and I believe if we channel that energy to all of the tool usage I think we'll be, we'll be fine."

Adams says they do use competitions to increase parole compliance but focus on more positive, proactive approaches, but the QDC competition has drawn wide criticism.

Precythe said the quick dip is only one tool officers have to address violations. Others include referring offenders to treatment or to classes where they can restructure their decision-making process.

She said while friendly competition among officers is encouraged, it's never before been used to incentivize solely the use of quick dips.

"To focus solely on a competition that supports just responding to negative behavior, that's not really what we're after," she said.

Defense attorneys tell ABC11 that incentivizing parole and probation officers to lock people up may create an ethical concern. The tipster who alerted the I-Team to the competition agreed, calling it in an email an "unethical directive." The person, who says s/he is employed at the Division of Community Corrections, says there has been "much verbal protest among staff regarding this competition" and that "the competition is being used as an incentive to bypass other and possibly more appropriate sanctions to address an offender's criminogenic needs, for the sole purpose of inflating their number of quick-dip confinements in the district."

"The result," the tipster goes on the say, is that "this competition may produce an undue burden on the local jail and will also have an adverse impact on the lives of probationers. I am deeply embarrassed by Wake County's management and am bothered by the fact that those in current management positions find this conduct acceptable."

Jamie Markham, a professor at the School of Government at UNC, says he can understand why someone would be bothered by it.

"There's no getting around it. It is putting somebody behind bars for 2-3 days," Markham said. "It's a deprivation of liberty and you could understand someone having the sense that to incentivize that kind of deprivation raises concerns."

When asked why the Wake County manager would encourage officers to "increase our numbers" of quick dips, and whether the state enforces a quota for probation officers to meet, Precythe was adamant it doesn't.

"Absolutely not," she said. "There is no such thing at all."

Precythe said her office is still looking into what happened and wouldn't say whether the manager would face any disciplinary action.

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