HARRISBURG - The state Board of Probation and Parole is failing to oversee its officers properly, which could result in parolees' being inadequately supervised by the state, according to a report released yesterday by Auditor General Jack Wagner.

The audit, which the board disputed, also said that agents did not always react in a timely way to when parolees were missing- and that once parolees were declared "absconded," officers did not properly try to find them.

The audit did not examine whether any of those parolees went on to commit crimes.

"This inadequate oversight by the Board of Probation and Parole is a serious potential threat to the safety of the public, especially at a time when crime is rising due to current economic conditions," Wagner said. "Now, more than ever, government must step up and be even more vigilant and do all that it can to protect the public from paroled criminals."

Sherry Tate, a spokeswoman for the board, said parole officials had many "concerns and questions" about the methodology the auditor general used, and believed that auditors had ignored "essential information" in drawing conclusions.

She also pointed out that the board's so-called absconder rate was 3.6 percent, well below the national average of 10 percent.

She added that auditors apparently had focused on only one tool supervisors use to assess parole officers, when in fact they employ several, including frequent reviews and annual audits.

Wagner's auditors wrote that the board could not provide them with nearly half the documentation required to be completed by supervisors who evaluate parole officers.

Auditors also said that in some instances, parole agents failed to make the required number of face-to-face contacts with parolees. For instance, from a sample of 24 parolees declared absconded or missing, nine had not met with their parole officer for three years and four had not met with their parole officer for five years.

Wagner's audit also states that auditors could not corroborate how many cases parole officers were assigned. Auditors requested Philadelphia's case-to-staff ratio but were denied the information.

In an interview yesterday, Wagner said that the audit illustrated a "breakdown in the board's management system," and that he believed parole officers were trying to do their jobs to the best of their ability, given their increased caseload over the years.

He also said his office believed the board's top officials had been resistant to using technology, including global positioning systems, to help them track offenders.

In fact, that is one of the recommendations in the audit: Use GPS to monitor sexually violent offenders.

Wagner's auditors also recommend that the board improve its procedures for verifying that parole officers are trying to find missing parolees in a timely fashion: Officers have 30 days to conduct a diligent search before declaring them "absconders."

Wagner's office also advised the board to stop destroying documents that show its employees are properly following protocol and develop a retention policy for such records.

Contact staff writer Angela Couloumbis at 717-787-5934 or acouloumbis@phillynews.com.