First Massachusetts, now New Jersey’s legislature debates transferring probation out of the Judiciary

New Jersey Assembly’s Law and Public Safety Committee is set to debate ACR 55, a plan to shift the state’s probation department from judiciary to the executive this Monday, June 13. Back in April, Massachusetts’ legislature debated a similar plan to combine the Probation Department from the judiciary and the Parole Department from the Executive Branch into new Department of Re-entry and Community Supervision (details here). However, unlike the Massachusetts plan, the New Jersey proposal will require a constitutional amendment.

According to the author’s explanation for ACR 55, the need for an amendment stems from a  New Jersey Supreme Court decision striking down a law that would have created a “Probation Officer Community Safety Unit” within the Administrative Office of the Courts with the authority to carry firearms and the power to apprehend and arrest probationers who violated the conditions of probation. In April 2006, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that law unconstitutional because it violated the separation of powers doctrine. The court stated that it is the responsibility of the Judiciary to define the duties of probation officers, not  the legislature. The court also reiterated its position that probation officers are not law enforcement officers, but impartial agents of the Judiciary. (Williams v. State of New Jersey).

Since that April 2006 opinion, there have been a series of proposed constitutional amendments to overturn the decision, starting with ACR 192 of 2006/2007, introduced just days after the decision, and including ACR 266 of 2006/2007, ACR 147 of 2008/2009, SCR 118 of 2008/2009, ACR 68 of 2008/2009, and SCR 37 of 2010/2011.