News Releases
March 22, 2011

BBA Urges Principles Over Politics in Probation/Parole Reform

Press Release

As Massachusetts continues to be roiled by debate over which branch of government should manage probation and parole, the Boston Bar Association today released a position paper saying: “The real issues affecting probation and parole are not in what branch of government those agencies reside, but how they make cost-effective program choices and deliver community services that are best designed to protect the public by reducing recidivism.”

The position paper was prepared by the BBA Probation Reform Study Group — appointed by BBA President Donald R. Frederico after the Governor proposed moving Probation from the Judicial Branch to the Executive Branch in December — and will provide the basis for the BBA’s testimony on this issue before the Judiciary Committee on March 30, 2011. The study group represents a wide range of federal and state prosecutorial and public defense experience: R.J. Cinquegrana (Chair, and Past President of the Boston Bar Association), Robert Iuliano, Christina Miller, Liza Lunt, Lawrence DiCara, Lee Peterson, Lon Povich, Michael Ricciuti, and Randy Gioia.

Citing the patronage and hiring abuses in the Probation Department highlighted by the Ware Report of 2010, and the murder of a Woburn police officer, John Maguire, resulting in an overhaul of the Parole Board, the BBA in its position paper urges “that the momentum for change created in recent months should not be squandered on piecemeal solutions, and that we should not defer to established structures without good reason as we aim to design a better criminal justice system.”

According to the position paper, today Massachusetts spends $1.2 billion annually on state and county corrections, parole, and probation, and all of these agencies, along with the courts, have one unifying goal, the reduction of recidivism. To that end, the BBA proposes that reforms be based on a set of guiding principles:

  • The legislature should look beyond the problems currently documented in probation and parole to develop a coherent criminal justice and sentencing system in which these restructured agencies will play coordinated roles.   We hope that the legislature will consider more cost-effective use of mandatory sentencing and the adoption of sentencing guidelines, which would include alternative sentencing practices for low-risk offenders and intensive supervision, where appropriate, to encourage successful completion of supervision and re-entry into the community.  
  • The Departments of Probation and Parole should be required to implement evidence-based decision making to support risks/needs assessment of candidates for conditional release.
  • Within their community release functions, the Departments of Probation and Parole should be required to apply cost/benefit analysis to guide expenditures for intensive supervision functions like electronic monitoring, community supervision, and day reporting which are not driven by political considerations but instead aimed at applying resources where they are most likely to result in the benefit of reduced recidivism.
  • The legislature should insist on better collaboration among criminal justice agencies that ensures sharing of information; coordination of training, services and strategies; and elimination of redundant and wasteful government functions.
  • The hiring and promotion of personnel in these agencies should be based on education, experience, and professional potential alone.  The legislature should require that tracking of probationer compliance and other human resource tools such as annual reviews be utilized to retain and promote probation and parole officers who are successful in achieving reductions in recidivism. 

After devoting considerable time to analyzing proposals that consolidation of probation and parole in the Executive Branch is necessary,  and that preserving effective relationships between judges and probation officers requires that probation remain in the Judiciary, the BBA Study Group concludes: “We find that both propositions have merit but that neither one is controlling. We are convinced that patronage hiring can be avoided, and best practices implemented, by either the Executive or the Judiciary.”