Though Eve Carson and Abhijit Mahato likely never met, their deaths would become inextricably linked. Both were college students in North Carolina. Carson was a 22-year-old undergraduate at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and student body president, and 29-year-old Mahato was a Ph.D. student at Duke University. And in early 2008, a 17-year-old named Lawrence Lovette allegedly had a hand in the brutal murders of both.

In January, Mahato was found shot to death in his apartment, which had been subsequently robbed. Lovette, along with a man named Stephen Oates, is currently awaiting trial for the murder.

In March, Carson was allegedly kidnapped from her home by Lovette and 21-year-old Demario Atwater. The men are accused of driving Carson to a bank, using her ATM card to extract money from her account, and then driving her to a residential neighborhood, where Lovette shot her five times with a .25 caliber handgun. Atwater is accused of delivering a final, fatal shotgun blast to Carson's head. Atwater has since pleaded guilty, however, Lovette's case is still pending.

During the investigations it was discovered that Atwater and Lovette were on probation at the time of the slayings. An April 2008 Associated Press report found that at the time of Carson's murder, Lovette's probation officer was handling 127 cases and hadn't received basic training. Atwater had never met with his probation officer and his case had been handled by 10 different officers.

"This is a dark cloud over our agency," said Robert Lee Guy, then-director of the North Carolina Division of Community Corrections, following the revelations.

Taking Action

The North Carolina Department of Correction had a serious problem on its hands. Though Atwater and Lovette may spend the rest of their lives in prison, the victims' friends and family no doubt wonder what might have been had the state's probation system not been so inept. Following the murders, North Carolina officials began investigating where the breakdowns in the probation system occurred. It soon became clear that while law enforcement, courts, juvenile justice and adult corrections each had some data, no agency had access to the big picture. And so the state General Assembly authorized $140,000 to start work on a system that could link the agencies together and give probation officers the tools they desperately needed.

"[Probation officers] had so many little things that happened right around the time of the slaughters that it brought to attention that it's important for agencies to share their information better than they were doing," said Cindy Cousins, application development manager of the North Carolina Department of Correction. "So the courts jumped right on this because the Legislature gave us money. It was just really good cooperation between us and the courts. It would have been hard to do on a normal workload without public [opinion] and the Legislature and everybody saying 'Yeah, let's get this done.'"

The final product was development of the Probation Officer's Dashboard, a software application that lets probation officers immediately identify individuals who've violated terms of their parole. To develop the dashboard, the Department of Correction assembled a small team of technical staff under Cousins to work with the court. The team was responsible for combing through all the court system's electronic records to match data to records in the Department of Correction. This was difficult because the courts track records by case numbers, while corrections tracks records by individual. It also was problematic since something as simple as a misspelled name in the court records could generate links to dozens of corrections records. Further complicating matters was that in North Carolina, individuals charged with a misdemeanor are not required to be fingerprinted.

"One person might be in there with their name spelled 20 different ways for 20 different cases," Cousins said. "We didn't have

Chad Vander Veen  | 

Chad Vander Veen previously served as the editor of FutureStructure, and the associate editor of Government Technology and Public CIO magazines.