Probation In The Spotlight

One of the worst-kept secrets in Massachusetts government is now made fully public, in excrutiating detail, by the Boston Globe Spotlight team -- the pathetic, bloated, malfunctioning patronage haven that is the state's probation system. Kudos to the Globe and its reporters for putting the pieces together.

Just very recently, I was talking with a significant political figure in the state about criminal-justice reform, and at one point I interrupted by asking, "because the Probation Department is a joke, right?" The person smiled sheepishly, reiterated that the conversation was not on the record, and then answered in the affirmative.

Governor Deval Patrick, who has literally been fighting the state legislature on this (and similar patronage havens in the courts) since his first months in office, went on the record with me about it two months ago (emphasis added):

Even short of putting probation under the executive, there are changes that could be made. Just last week, the state senate once again rejected Patrick's budget plan of consolidating the trial courts into a single line item, which would be a big step in the right direction -- the different parts of the court system would be dependent on, and thus responsive to, Chief Justice Mulligan's office, rather than the legislature, for their funding. 

The Globe report is going to put a lot of heat on the legislature to do something. As of the past week or two, nobody I talk to on the subject thought an kind of serious reform was possible, certainly not this year and probably not after the election either. It will be interesting to see what Patrick does to use this Globe report to change the odds.

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