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Lawmakers Weighing Mass. Probation Dept. Changes

BOSTON — Massachusetts’ top judge and Gov. Deval Patrick’s public safety secretary are pushing two very different proposed solutions for overhauling the state’s beleaguered probation system.

Public Safety Secretary Mary Beth Heffernan said the best way to fix the system is to adopt Patrick’s proposal to combine the Probation Department with the Massachusetts Parole Board and bring both under the control of the executive branch.

“The demands on the system are not what they were years ago, when the courts were able to function as a court family,” Heffernan said. “We’ve outgrown that model.”

Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Roderick Ireland disagreed, saying probation should remain under the supervision of the courts. He said the SJC has already taken steps to repair the system.

“The Probation Department is well on its way to being — once again — a national model,” Ireland said.

Heffernan and Ireland testified Wednesday at a State House hearing before the Judiciary Committee.

Lawmakers are grappling with the fallout from a report released last year that documented evidence of widespread political patronage at the Probation Department.

With reporting from The Associated Press and WBUR’s Steve Brown.

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