Probation location

the battle rages over which branch of government will control probation—and its $150 million budget—in Massa­chusetts. But looking for help to see how other states do it offers little in the way of guidance.

According to the American Probation and Parole Asso­ciation, there is no one-size-fits-all approach or best-practices template to overseeing the people who oversee the criminals. Massachusetts is one of 11 states where the courts oversee probation. The majority have it under various agencies in the executive branch, while eight states place the burden on county government. Alabama, oddly, gives its legislature control of probation.

While the judiciary technically oversees probation in Massachusetts, it’s not quite that simple. Under now-suspended Commissioner of Probation John O’Brien, the agen­cy enjoyed an unusual degree of autonomy. Thanks to his friends in the Legislature, O’Brien controlled his own budget and could hire and fire employees with little interference.

Meet the Author

Jack Sullivan

Senior Investigative Reporter, CommonWealth

About Jack Sullivan

Jack Sullivan is now retired. A veteran of the Boston newspaper scene for nearly three decades. Prior to joining CommonWealth, he was editorial page editor of The Patriot Ledger in Quincy, a part of the GateHouse Media chain. Prior to that he was news editor at another GateHouse paper, The Enterprise of Brockton, and also was city edition editor at the Ledger. Jack was an investigative and enterprise reporter and executive city editor at the Boston Herald and a reporter at The Boston Globe.

He has reported stories such as the federal investigation into the Teamsters, the workings of the Yawkey Trust and sale of the Red Sox, organized crime, the church sex abuse scandal and the September 11 terrorist attacks. He has covered the State House, state and local politics, K-16 education, courts, crime, and general assignment.

Jack received the New England Press Association award for investigative reporting for a series on unused properties owned by the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, and shared the association's award for business for his reporting on the sale of the Boston Red Sox. As the Ledger editorial page editor, he won second place in 2007 for editorial writing from the Inland Press Association, the nation's oldest national journalism association of nearly 900 newspapers as members.

At CommonWealth, Jack and editor Bruce Mohl won first place for In-Depth Reporting from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors for a look at special education funding in Massachusetts. The same organization also awarded first place to a unique collaboration between WFXT-TV (FOX25) and CommonWealth for a series of stories on the Boston Redevelopment Authority and city employees getting affordable housing units, written by Jack and Bruce.

About Jack Sullivan

Jack Sullivan is now retired. A veteran of the Boston newspaper scene for nearly three decades. Prior to joining CommonWealth, he was editorial page editor of The Patriot Ledger in Quincy, a part of the GateHouse Media chain. Prior to that he was news editor at another GateHouse paper, The Enterprise of Brockton, and also was city edition editor at the Ledger. Jack was an investigative and enterprise reporter and executive city editor at the Boston Herald and a reporter at The Boston Globe.

He has reported stories such as the federal investigation into the Teamsters, the workings of the Yawkey Trust and sale of the Red Sox, organized crime, the church sex abuse scandal and the September 11 terrorist attacks. He has covered the State House, state and local politics, K-16 education, courts, crime, and general assignment.

Jack received the New England Press Association award for investigative reporting for a series on unused properties owned by the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, and shared the association's award for business for his reporting on the sale of the Boston Red Sox. As the Ledger editorial page editor, he won second place in 2007 for editorial writing from the Inland Press Association, the nation's oldest national journalism association of nearly 900 newspapers as members.

At CommonWealth, Jack and editor Bruce Mohl won first place for In-Depth Reporting from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors for a look at special education funding in Massachusetts. The same organization also awarded first place to a unique collaboration between WFXT-TV (FOX25) and CommonWealth for a series of stories on the Boston Redevelopment Authority and city employees getting affordable housing units, written by Jack and Bruce.

Back in January, Gov. Deval Patrick filed a bill that would move probation into the executive branch and place it under the same agency that oversees parole. When media stories blew the cover off the patronage-laden system at probation, the question of who should oversee the agency moved to the front burner. The Legislature responded by creating a commission to recommend a course of action, with a report due later this year.

Patrick has said he’d be open to keeping probation in the courts but he says both probation and parole should be under the same branch for continuity, whatever the outcome. But, again, there is no universal model to go by. There are 35 states plus the District of Columbia that have both probation and parole under one branch of government, including all 31 where probation falls under the executive branch. The 11 states that place probation under the courts, including Massachusetts, all have parole under the executive branch.


Source:  American Probation and Parole Association