The aftermath of the state's Probation Department patronage
scandal has fueled debate over which branch of government should
manage the troubled agency. On Feb. 17, members of the judicial,
legislative and executive branches discussed that issue in front of
an overflow crowd at Suffolk University Law School.
"A New Path for Probation" drew more than 175 attendees to the
Boston law school, with people lining the walls to listen in on the
discussion. The event was presented by MassINC, the publisher of
Commonwealth magazine, sponsored by the Massachusetts Bar
Association and hosted by Suffolk University Law School's Rappaport
Center for Law and Public Service.
The panel, which was moderated by Commonwealth Publisher
Greg Torres, featured:
- Chief Justice for Administration and Management Robert A.
- Massachusetts Public Safety Secretary Mary Beth Heffernan
- Sen. Cynthia Stone Creem, co-chair of the Joint Committee on
the Judiciary and a member of the Probation Reform Working Group;
- John Larivee, CEO of Community Resources for Justice.
A number of judges, legislators, officials and representatives
of the legal community also sat in the audience.
MBA President Denise Squillante, in her introductory remarks,
noted that "The MBA supports the preservation of the Probation
Dept. as a part of the judiciary." Former Massachusetts Attorney
General L. Scott Harshbarger, who chairs the SJC's Task Force on
Hiring in the Judicial Branch, was unable to attend but provided a
video in which he lamented that the once-proud department had
deliberately become "a fundamentally corrupt agency."
Mulligan argued that the judiciary should continue to oversee
the agency, noting that veteran court officer Ronald Corbett Jr.
has achieved "extraordinary" results since being appointed acting
commissioner. "It's a new day in Probation," Mulligan said.
Torres said that while Corbett's effectiveness is without
question, what is a concern is what will happen when he is no
longer in charge.
Heffernan also praised Corbett's leadership, but argued that Gov.
Deval Patrick's plans to bring the Probation Department under the
authority of the executive branch would improve public safety,
provide better oversight and transparency and save money. She noted
that Patrick had developed his proposal years ago, before the
agency's problems became public.
"It's a disgrace that we didn't even know how many people were on
probation," she said.
Larivee noted that other states have successful probation
departments regardless of whether they're run by the judiciary or
the executive branch.
"The argument about where it ought to be ought to come last," he
said, adding that the priority should be deciding what kind of
agency it should be. "It can work in either location, but it
depends on how it's run."
Creem said she was not speaking for the Legislature, but noted
that putting both agencies under the same authority raises other
concerns, alluding to the recent dismissal of several Parole Board
members over a controversial decision.
"We've got a lot of problems in both departments that we've got to
look at, and in the criminal justice system as a whole," she
Video highlights of the forum can be found at