The state Senate is trying to restrain the state’s runaway Probation Department, where patronage is common and accountability is rare. The Senate’s budget bill would wisely give court system administrators the power to oversee the appointment, dismissal, assignment, and discipline of probation officers.
Key personnel decisions have been left to the whims of Probation Commissioner John J. O’Brien, who was suspended in May following a Globe Spotlight series revealing hiring irregularities and lax financial oversight in the department. The Senate amendment would create a task force to recommend whether the courts or the governor’s public safety office should oversee reform of probation. In the interim, the department should report to someone other than itself, and honest operation would be well served by giving judges final authority over personnel decisions for now.
The House has failed to address the dysfunctional Probation Department. As a conference committee reviews budget bills, House negotiators should accept the Senate plan.