COLUMBIA, SC (WCSC) - The state agency whose job is to protect the public from ex-cons and convicted sex offenders is dealing with a staffing shortage that could eventually pose a danger.
Officials with the South Carolina Department of Probation and Parole say a decrease in state funding is taking a toll on agents in the field.
"We certainly could be in better shape," said Probation and Parole Director Samuel Glover.
Probation and Parole agents have many duties, including making sure offenders under their supervision live where they are supposed to live. Agents also have to make sure offenders take drug tests and wear GPS monitors, if ordered to do so.
Most importantly, agents have to make sure offenders aren't running or committing other crimes.
It's a job officials say is getting more difficult and dangerous with the decrease in the number of agents.
"We've had to cut back immensely over the last couple of years," said Glover.
According to Glover, in there were 650 agents in the field in 2002. In 2005, there were 562 agents in the field. This year, there are only 468 agents working in the field, supervising 31,245 offenders statewide.
Glover says ideally, he should have 485 agents in the field.
"Our agents are extremely stressed right now from a performance standpoint, but even through it all, they're maintaining and doing a great job," said Glover. "We would certainly like to have more money."
That is not likely to happen anytime soon, according to South Carolina House Speaker Bobby Harrell. Harrell says times are tough for all state agencies, and the state's budget has been cut by $2 billion.
"Obviously we want them to be able to do their job," Harrell said. "We want to make sure those officers are safe when they do their job to protect the public. In an environment where there's less money than there was the year before, it's just hard to do that with money."
Probation and parole officials are working with local police agencies to try to take some of the pressure off their agents.
While there is no immediate danger to public, officials say if the money problems continue, it could mean fewer home visits by agents, a cutback in drug testing and more sex offenders and dangerous convicts on the run.
"We're getting by I guess," Glover said.
Probation and parole officials say 60 percent of the agency's overall budget comes from fees paid by offenders under their supervision. But, many of those offenders cannot afford to pay the fees, adding to the budget woes.
In some cases, the probation and parole office has to pursue those fees through the courts.