Mass. Political Leaders Promise Overhaul Of Probation Dept.

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Legislative leaders, along with Gov. Deval Patrick, are pledging swift action in the new year to fix the troubled state Probation Department. A report by the Supreme Judicial Court uncovered widespread patronage and other hiring irregularities at the department.

The governor, along with House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Therese Murray said they will appoint a special nine-member bipartisan commission to develop consensus legislation overhauling the Probation Department.

The action comes just weeks after the release of the so-called "Ware Report." The report found the department had become a patronage haven for employees who'd been hired on the recommendation of one of several state legislators, and that many qualified applicants without legislative connections were often denied work, or promotions.

Patrick said this new, yet-to-be-named special commission looking at the overhaul will come up with a bill by mid-January.

"We want to take account of best practices from other states. Gather some information, quickly, see if we can come to a consensus on where probation should be and what expectations would be in reform," Patrick said.

One aspect all three leaders agree should be part of the overhaul is that hiring at the department should fall under the state's Civil Service commission. DeLeo said that under that system, job applicants would be required to take a Civil Service test, with only the highest scorers eligible for jobs.

"Now there's going to be a list that's going to have three candidates on it. So I think that takes it, you know, out of the hands of any recommendations," DeLeo said. "They're going to have to pass a test, to show their fluency in probation matters is good and they're ready to assume the job."

So far, Murray has had little to say about the Probation Department scandal. But, after Monday's leadership meeting, she made it clear that the legislature will not appropriate any more money for the Probation Department until reforms are put in place. When asked what would happen if the overhaul is not completed by the end of the fiscal year, Murray was blunt: "It will be resolved before then," she said.

Meanwhile, there's no indication yet when the state attorney general and U.S. attorney will complete their investigations.

This program aired on December 7, 2010.

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Steve Brown Senior Reporter/Anchor
Steve Brown is a veteran broadcast journalist who serves as WBUR's senior State House reporter.



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