Friday, April 15, 2011

Senate GOP Re-files Probation Reform Bill

Continuing their commitment to address allegations of widespread patronage and a "pay-to-play" scandal within the state’s probation department, the Senate Republican Caucus has re-filed legislation outlining several key reforms needed to help restore the public’s confidence in the judicial system.

The Senate bill seeks to address many of the problems identified in independent counsel Paul Ware’s November 2010 report, which detailed evidence of “systemic abuse and corruption” within the probation department under former commissioner John O’Brien. The report – which was commissioned after a Boston Globe Spotlight Team investigation – found that “[H]iring and promotion have been thoroughly compromised by a systemic rigging of the interview and selection process in favor of candidates who have political or other personal connections.”

“The integrity of our criminal justice system has been called into question by what has been allowed to transpire unchecked for far too long within the probation department,” said Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr (R-Gloucester), who is sponsoring the bill with Senators Robert Hedlund (R-Weymouth), Michael Knapik (R-Westfield) and Richard Ross (R-Wrentham). “The reforms we are seeking will help to ensure that future job candidates are hired or promoted based on their actual qualifications for the job, and not on their political connections.”

The latest bill contains language similar to a proposal the Senate Republican Caucus offered as an amendment during the Fiscal Year 2011 budget debate last spring. The Caucus also filed a stand-alone reform bill at the end of the 2009-2010 legislative session.

A key component of the new reform bill is that it would reverse the Legislature’s 2001 decision to remove the probation department from the court system and grant the commissioner autonomy over personnel decisions. The Ware report found that the problems within the department began shortly after this transfer of power occurred.

The Senate bill would:

• transfer control over personnel decisions within the probation department to the Chief Justice of Administration and Management for the Trial Courts, including all appointments, dismissals and assignments;

• give the probation commissioner executive control and supervision of the parole service;

• require the development of a merit-based system to ensure that only qualified candidates are hired and promoted; and

• limit the probation commissioner to a five-year term, subject to appointment by the Chief Justice for Administration and Management for the Trial Courts.

“The public has a right to a probation department with true integrity and wants to see decisive action taken to correct these problems,” said Senator Tarr. “This bill provides a roadmap for implementing positive changes within the probation department and correcting the mistake the Legislature made 10 years ago that allowed politics to trump process.”