Massachusetts: Bill to remove Probation Department from judiciary debated

The precise placement of Parole and Probation functions have been a subject of some debate. Traditionally, parole was viewed as an exercise of the executive’s power, while probation was a judicial sentence. While several states have combined the administration of the functions under joint Departments of Probation and Parole others, such as Massachusetts, keep them separate.

Amid accusations made in the Boston Globe and from an independent counsel’s report that found a “patronage hiring machine” at the Massachusetts Probation Department, HB 42 of 2011 would combine the Probation Department from the judiciary and the Parole Department from the Executive Branch into new Department of Re-entry and Community Supervision. The new department would he housed in the Executive Branch.

According to the Massachusetts Lawyer’s Weekly Blog, judicial leaders testified in late March in opposition to HB 42. Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Roderick L. Ireland noted the probation department had been overhauled and warned

“Many judges are greatly concerned that if Probation is removed from the judicial branch, the probation function will be compromised. Judges will wonder whether they’re getting the probation officer’s most candid, most objective advice and probation officers may feel torn between their desire to provide the best counsel to the judges while at the same time striving to comply with the policies and goals of the executive branch.”

Executive branch officials argue judges and probation officials “are professionals” and would note be at odds if probation came under the executive purview.

The bill remains pending in the Joint Committee on the Judiciary.

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